Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
 
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Cadence: Of Lizards and Hounds

by Christa Lasher


The only way Cadre could judge the shift in sunlight was how it glinted off the reflective minerals in the rock on which he squatted. It was beginning to take on a sheen the color of a pomegranate, so day was quickly fading. Cadre wasn't willing to leave just yet, though; it wasn't as if his parents would be particularly worried if he stayed out too long after dark. He wanted every opportunity to catch a skink or a green anole, or maybe even a racerunner. Sweat speckled the stones as it dropped from Cadre's forehead, but he'd developed a patience beyond his years. All he had to do was wait, unmoving... and then be just that much faster than those speedy little bastards.

Cadre became aware somehow of something beside him. An interesting meter of contraction and dilations in his bowels told him that the something beside him ought to strike a certain amount of fear in him. The skin on his skull tightened, and he felt every muscle stiffen. Twilight surrounded them, and Cadre knew he was at a distinct disadvantage, for everyone knew that dangerous things could see in the dark. Carefully, slowly, Cadre shifted his eyes and just barely turned his head. What sat beside him was generally canine, large, muscular, sleek, and blacker than the shadow in the heart of man. It looked like a mix between a wolf and a Rottweiler; this hound had inherited the best attributes of both and enveloped them in a hauntingly beautiful and terrifying frame. All Cadre could think about, though, was how he could never outrun this hound.

It didn't look particularly interested in killing Cadre, just particularly interested. It had an air to it that said it hadn't quite made up its mind about Cadre, but it could make up its mind pretty damn quick, and Cadre would be made to regret it.

Cadre swallowed, and avoided any eye contact with the hound. He didn't want to look into its eyes; those eyes could probably kill you on sight. Still, Cadre felt he had been given a chance: make no sudden moves, just walk away and don't come back, and you'll live to see puberty. He shifted slowly forward onto his toes and was relieved to see no significant change in the hound; equally slowly, he stood up and swept his gaze around to find an escape route. Cadre's heart nearly stopped. It wasn't just one hound; he was surrounded by a pack. The hound that was beside him, the biggest, and obviously the alpha, seemed to be reconsidering Cadre. It opened and closed its mouth, as if about to bark.

Cadre backed up until he felt something very solid just below his shoulder blade. He'd hit a giant rock, and he knew that he couldn't scrabble over it fast enough if the hound decided that he would make a tasty snack. A cold shock ran up Cadre's spine, bursting into white-hot instinct at his brainstem, and he knew that he was going to die.

As if in confirmation, the alpha lowered its head and let out a growl too low to hear. No, you could feel it in your belly. It was definitely not like thunder, though; thunder had the courtesy of crackling when close and rumbling away and fading off. Thunder was wild and unbridled; not this, this hound had full control of itself, and the growl proved it. It was going to kill Cadre and eat him, and it knew that it would do it. Only then did Cadre decide to look the hound in the eye. Just as his gaze met the redness of its pupil did it meet the whiteness of its teeth, and the alpha lunged forward in a ballet of perfectly orchestrated predatory genius.

Cadre felt two pains that threatened to pull him apart; a vice-like, but dull, one at his bicep and a vice-like, but sharp one at his calf. Then abruptly both were gone, replaced by a throbbing pain instead, and Cadre was on his back against grass and pebbles. He heard howling, but in a second, it was far away, and Cadre wondered if he were dead. When he opened his eyes and saw a face as wrinkled as a shriveled apple, he knew he couldn't be.

"Well, you're alive anyway," the gruff voice, which belonged to the face, said. It didn't sound all that pleased with the discovery; in fact, it seemed rather annoyed at the whole thing. "I guess we'll have to get you cleaned up before we do anything else."

At that, Cadre began to cry.

####

Cadre had been placed atop an ancient kitchen counter, his leg was in the sink and cool water ran over the bite. He didn't look at the wound, which made him nauseous, but watched the water below. It swirled around the drain, mixing with his blood as it dripped down, and he tried very hard to think of it as corn syrup.

The water turned off, and the old man's arm obstructed his view as he began to bandage up the wound. After lifting Cadre out of the reach of the hounds, the old man had put the boy into his truck, and drove him back to the old farmhouse, where he was cleaning Cadre up. He grumbled as he worked, but Cadre couldn't make out what he was saying. He didn't try to, either; the old man seemed rather aggravated with Cadre for being injured.

Finally, he stopped bandaging Cadre and stepped back, looking the boy up and down. His face was puckered in a thoughtful frown, and he ran his dry fingers over the sandpaper that was his chin. "You were lucky I happened on you when I did, boy," the old man finally said. "Those hounds could have eaten you. One swallow'd been all it'd take."

A sudden thought struck Cadre like a lightning bolt and he felt sick to his stomach. "What if they had rabies!?"

"None of them have rabies," the old man said.

"But, what if they do?"

"They don't, boy. What were you doin' roaming around on that old mountain?"

Cadre was quiet for a moment. "They're yours, aren't they?" he asked.

"As much mine as anyone else's," the old man said. "I'm the one who keeps them licensed and fed and what not. Very specific diet, they got too. Wouldn't want to add boy to the list. Might upset their tummies."

"You know, they could be put down for attacking a person," said Cadre. He gave the old man a suspicious glare for good measure, though he knew that nothing about him looked particularly impressive. Especially not the red eyes and runny nose from crying.

"They were on their own property. Nothing wrong if they attack a trespasser who breaks through a fence," the old man said. "Are you the one who broke through my fence?"

Cadre's silence spoke loud enough. He looked away from the old man.

"What's your name, boy?" asked the old man.

"Cadre... Cadre St. George."

"Cadre? What kind of name is Cadre? Why don't people name their children proper names anymore? Like from the Bible."

Cadre glared at the old man, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff. "It's my name. What kind of name do you have?"

"My name is Aaron Annwn. See. Proper name, after the Aaron in the Bible. You know, Moses' brother."

"Isn't Aaron the one who built the golden calf?" asked Cadre.

Aaron laughed; it was deep-bellied and full, and it made Cadre smile to himself. "Well, you know something, then. And at least you got a good last name. St. George. The one who slew the dragon."

Cadre nodded, still smiling. "Yep. But I wouldn't have slain a dragon. I think it would be really cool to have a dragon."

Aaron nodded, and his fingers made a raspy sound as he once more rubbed them against his chin. "All right, Cadre. Tell me what you were doing on that mountain. On my property. After cutting through my fence."

"I was trying to find lizards."

"Lizards? Why were you looking for lizards?"

"Because... Well, I thought that if you were to breed 'em right, you could breed dinosaurs."

Aaron laughed again and shook his head. "Tell you what, kid. You work here, helping me to fix my fence and work off the cost, and you can take home any lizards you catch, all right?"

Cadre wasn't sure that was as good a deal as Aaron seemed to try to make it sound. But, then again, he was a child, and people rarely gave children much choice. Slowly, he nodded.

"All right, boy. Let's get you home to your family."

####

Aaron had built the fence around his property in a very particular way -- that is, in the most complicated way imaginable. He also had a very particular way to fix it whenever it broke -- that is, in the most complicated way imaginable. Cadre had already spent three days helping Aaron dismantle the electrical system in the electric fence and pull the wire from all the way around the fence, which encompassed the old mountain on which his farmstead stood. Cadre had spent a good deal of the time running back and forth to the hardware store in town buying, returning, and buying anew pieces needed to re-build the fence. And Cadre had to get very specific parts, for it appeared that Aaron had built his fence from scratch and was determined to rebuild it now that it had been, in a small way, damaged.

And though Cadre wouldn't admit it, part of the slow progress was due to his frequent excursions looking for lizards. To be fair, though, Aaron allowed, even encouraged, these excursions.

This particular pause in the work was caused neither by trips nor excursions, but by oppressive humidity and searing heat. Aaron and Cadre sat under a fat ash tree, wallowing in the shade and eating peaches. The hounds, which had turned out to be uninterested in Cadre, lay scattered around them, unmoving and unmovable in the shade. The biggest one, the alpha who had had a taste of Cadre, lay higher on the mountain, lounging upon a rock beneath a pine tree. Cadre kept a careful eye on him.

"He won't bite you again," Aaron said after Cadre's last glance back at the hound. "He's not interested anymore."

That might well have been true, for the alpha didn't bother to even sniff at him whenever he went by, Cadre couldn't shake the feeling that it need only change its mind. "He's awful big. And you can't see him in the shadow. He's black as... death."

"Yeah, in the summer," Aaron said. "But death's white in the winter. These hounds turn white in the winter. Get big long winter coats. They look more like wolves then. That one I named Shuck after he shed that white coat in the spring."

"You named the alpha Shuck?" Cadre asked, and childish imagination found the name repulsively lacking in panache.

"He answers to it. The alpha female, her name is Padfoot."

Now, that was a name a child could get behind. "Which one is she?"

Aaron pointed out among the hounds. She sat at the same level of the mountain as Aaron and Cadre, sleeping in the shade, like the others. If she hadn't laid just a bit higher than the others, you wouldn't have been able to distinguish her from the mass of blackness that was the pack.

"Aaron, why is there an alpha female?"

"Oh, well," Aaron said. "I don't know if you're old enough to hear it."

"I'm old enough!" said Cadre as he grabbed Aaron's arm and shook it. "Tell me! Please?"

Aaron grinned, and leaned closer so he could whisper conspiratorially. "Only the alpha male and the alpha female breed."

"That's not anything exciting," Cadre said. He leaned back against the tree, hands behind his head and apparently disappointed. "Why are they the only ones that breed?"

"Can't say why," said Aaron. "Just that they do. Shuck'll fight off any of the other males that want to mate when the bitches are in heat. And Padfoot'll kill the pups of any other bitch."

Though pleasantly scandalized by the use of profanity, not technically so in this situation, Cadre was put off by what Aaron had actually said. "Why would she kill the pups?"

"Couldn't tell you what goes through her head when she does it. I can tell you what I've been told about it by people who study it. Survival instinct, some sort of evolutionary thing. She wants her pups to get all the care from the pack; she doesn't want to share the... well, you know, food and protection and what not with other pups. So, she kills them."

Cadre sat forward, wrapping his arms around his knees. "That's awful." He suddenly felt like he had a stomachache.

"Eh, other animals do it. You know how there's only one lion in a pack of lionesses, a pride, right? Well, when another lion comes in, he'll kill off all the cubs. Just something they do. Something about evolution and all that. Only natural."

Cadre grunted, and it was hard to tell whether that meant assent or mere acknowledgment. Aaron took no notice.

"So, why'd your mom and stepfather let you come out here every day and stay out all night?" Aaron asked. "You ain't old enough, if you ask me."

It took Cadre a few moments to reply, and he simply shrugged. Then he looked up. "How'd you know he was my stepdad?"

Winking, Aaron tapped a finger against his nose. "Very perceptive."

"Your nose?"

"No -- boy, what are you thinking? Just saying, I could tell."

Cadre shrugged again. "Well, I mean... I have a little sister now. I'm old enough to take care of myself. And besides, how much trouble can I get into, right?"

"You could get eaten by a big hound after breaking through someone's fence."

At that moment, Cadre became very interested in the unique black stone beneath his feet. Aaron reached between Cadre's ankles and picked up a small stone. He rubbed it with his thumb a bit, then handed it to Cadre. "Clean that off, and tell me what it looks like."

"It looks like... black glass. It's -- what's it called -- volcanic glass."

"Obsidian, boy. The blackest rock you'll ever seen. This mountain's an old, dead volcano. All sorts of volcanic rock around here. Some big slabs of obsidian too, if you like that kind of thing; some people do. They used to make weapons out of this -- primitive men when they first learned how to make tools, cause this stuff can get razor sharp real quick. It'll protect you too, if you wear it."

"What, like magic?"

With a shrug, Aaron tossed the stone away. "I've lived here for years," he said. "Longer than I can remember. You know what I've seen? Since that volcano's gone dead, the lizards will go sit all through the crevices and along the rim -- big ones too. Those will help you get your dinosaurs."

"Really?" Cadre was on his feet in a moment and moving up toward the rim.

"Yeah, kid," Aaron said as he pulled a cigarette from a crumpled box and lit it. "Why don't you go check it out?"

####

The volcano apparently had blown itself apart years before. It rose at a sharp grade and fell in an unceremoniously shallow trough on three sides, creating a horseshoe along the rim. In the bowl of the volcano lay years of desperate plant life and volcanic rubble and, sure enough, the lizards sunning themselves in the relative safety of the dormant volcano. Cadre couldn't have been happier to see such specimens of reptilian magnificence.

Cadre eased over the crest and began his descent into the bowl. Grasses, it appeared, were not eager to take to this habitat, and so no stabilizer existed for the powdery dirt or loose rocks. He skidded down the slope, managing to develop scrapes on almost every exposed surface on his skin. Alerted, the lizards disappeared. Caught up in the nagging pain of offended flesh, he sucked air between his teeth and pressed against what injuries he could until the pain subsided. He stood, carefully for his skin objected to the necessary bending and stretching inherent in motion, and began to explore the habitat of the volcanic den.

"There's no water," he whispered as he looked. "Must get their water from food. Plenty of places to warm up, though."

He stepped closer to one of the cluster of rocks and glanced beneath them. "Plenty of shady places too, to cool down. Probably lots of bugs around here during the summer." He climbed onto the rock and stood up, surveying the area. "Yeah, plenty of bugs." Cadre didn't care for insects, and so squished the mosquito that landed on his neck. "Mosquitoes must mean there is some water close by." He stepped back toward the shade and sat down and began to wait. But now that the lizards had been disturbed, they appeared averse to emerge from their hiding places again.

Bored, Cadre glanced about to find something a bit more interesting to look at until the lizards came back. He was surprised to see, in the crook of the horseshoe, something deep in the shadow that he'd missed on first inspection.

Propped up against the wall of the volcano were two slabs of very flat stone. The pieces formed a kind of lean-to, and beneath them was a little be-shadowed cave. Curious, Cadres went to the slabs, brushed one with his fingertips and smiled when he saw his suspicions were confirmed; these were slabs of obsidian. It was amazing how big these slabs were, and how perfectly flat. He ran his fingers along the face of one, thrilling at the smooth, cool -- not normal cool, but like the cool of scalding water when it first hits flesh -- surface of the stones, until his fingers reached the inside edge. Carefully, he let his fingers explore that edge, and he could feel the sharpness whispering against his skin before he even touched it. These sheets of obsidian must have been a geological anomaly, for it appeared that the separate shards were at one time a single, giant slate. Cadre allowed himself to marvel further at such a phenomenon -- of a titanic, perfectly flat, perfectly unblemished sheet of obsidian, even if it now lay fractured in the collapsed belly of a dead volcano.

More startlingly, though, beneath the slabs, in the darkness they created, sat what appeared to be another geological miracle. Cadre saw what looked like five or six large, coin-shaped rocks, though proportionally fatter than the average coin. The edges were perfectly rounded, and they looked as if they had been smoothed at the bottom of a river for millennia, though how such uniquely-shaped, large rocks -- larger, indeed, than Cadre's two fists pressed together -- could have gotten from that river bottom to the pit of volcano, beneath large shards of volcanic glass was beyond Cadre. Like any good boy, and indeed, any good blossoming scientist, Cadre decided to investigate further. He placed both hands around the edge of one of the slabs of obsidian and heaved to pull it down.

And immediately regretted it.

"Shit!" Cadre hissed, and doubled over, squeezing his fists together and attempting to bury them in his own belly. He could feel warm, sticky liquid ooze between his fingers, and the sting from the cuts refused to subside even after several strings of similarly outlawed words.

Cadre squatted beside the fallen obsidian slab and finally opened his hands to examine them. His palms were a sepia color from dried blood, though the redness constantly renewed itself from the cuts. He clenched his fists again and winced. Well, he wasn't going to leave empty handed now. Carefully, ignoring the pain, Cadre lifted three of the strange rocks and cradled them in the hallow he created from his shirt. Squeezing the tightly, he quickly made his back to Aaron's homestead.

A few of the hounds barked as Cadre neared the front door, but Shuck didn't even bother to lift his head.

"Aaron!" Cadre shouted as he ran toward the front porch. "Aaron! Open the door!"

Just as Cadre made it up the steps, the door swung open, framing a rather unimpressed Aaron. Unimpressed, that is, until he saw the growing red stain on Cadre's shirt. "Boy, what in the hell did you do?"

Cadre walked passed Aaron, emptying the contents of his shirt carefully onto the kitchen table. "I found these rocks-"

"None of that now," Aaron said. He caught Cadre's wrists and shoved his hands beneath the kitchen faucet, then turned it on full blast. Cadre winced, sucking air through his teeth, but said nothing. The sink filled first with brownish red, though it quickly cleared so that only thin ribbons of red remained.

Aaron quietly examined the cuts on Cadre's hands while they were still submerged. "Boy, your parents are going to think I'm abusing you," he said. "Hold out your hands."

Cadre obeyed and Aaron squirted some dish soap into them. "Wash up."

Cadre continued to obey without complaint, though the soap stung worse than the original cut, but only because Aaron's tone had gotten rather severe. Aaron disappeared into the back recesses of the small house, only to return a moment later with gauze. "All right. Tell me what if is that you found that you have to get all cut up for."

He pulled one of Cadre's hands from beneath the water and began to wrap it with gauze. "There were huge pieces of obsidian," Cadre said. "I mean, huge, and real flat and smooth. And those rocks were underneath them. There were more rocks than just those. But look at them; they look weird, like they didn't belong in a volcano."

Aaron made no reply as he took Cadre's other hand and bandaged it up. Finally, he set the gauze on the kitchen counter and went to examine the rocks. He lifted one up, and immediately his expression changed. Suddenly, the grimness from a moment before had disappeared. Still, he didn't smile, though his eyes shone with an uncharacteristic hunger. "Boy, go on home," he said.

"What?" Cadre asked.

"Go on home. Make sure you don't need stitches. You come back tomorrow, and that's an order -- you got it?"

Cadre wanted to know what that look was for. He wanted to see what Aaron had seen in the stones, but, despite himself, he once more obeyed Aaron's command. Sullenly, Cadre walked home in the growing darkness of dusk.

####

Cadre hadn't needed stitches, but it took some serious fighting to get his freedom back. Seeing her son bitten on the calf and now gouged on both palms made Cadre's mother hesitant to go back to Aaron's farm, whether or not he still owed him for the wrecked fence. So, Cadre didn't return the next day, nor the day after that, nor the day after that.

By the fourth day, the initial flare of maternal instinct settled down, and he was allowed to wander off as he so chose. He so chose to wander back to Aaron's little ranch. The pack of hounds greeted him with howls and whimpers, some even coming up and licking his hand. "Well, I didn't think I'd be missed," he said as he scratched several furry heads. When he got to the porch, he looked at Shuck and Padfoot. Padfoot lifted her head and wagged her tail, but Shuck, aside from a glance, didn't acknowledge him at all.

"What's his problem, Padfoot, huh?" Cadre asked, kneeling in front of her to scratch her ears. Quietly, he reached over and scratched Shuck on the neck. Almost immediately, Shuck rolled onto his back and let Cadre scratch his belly too. "Good to see you too, Shuck."

"Where the hell have you been, boy? I told you to come back three days ago," said a voice from behind the screen door.

"Sorry. My mom freaked out and wouldn't let me leave until now." Cadre walked into the kitchen, and there sat Aaron, smoking a cigarette. Before him on the table sat a large wooden crate, lined with a thick blanket and filled with the coin-shaped stones.

"Did you need stitches?" Aaron asked.

"Nope."

Aaron took one of Cadre's hands and examined it. "Good. You're healing up quick. That's good."

He dropped Cadre's hand and picked up one of the stones, standing so that he could show it to Cadre. "You found something special here, boy."

"What? It's a rock."

"Feel it," he said. "It ain't no rock."

Cadre took to stone and hefted it just to feel its weight. It was smooth, as smooth as a river rock, and heavy but... but not heavy like a rock should be. It felt -- not less dense, per se -- it felt liquid, like it was filled with liquid. Cadre looked at the stone, now more curious, and ran his thumb over it. It was not porous at all, it had no tiny indentations; the surface was equally solid all over, there were no soft spots. Cadre lifted the stone to his ear and shook his gently.

"Oh, no, don't do that," Aaron said, taking the stone.

"That's the weirdest rock I've ever seen."

"That's because it ain't no rock. It's an egg."

Cadre snorted, grinning after a moment. Surely Aaron was joking. "You don't expect me to believe that."

"I sure do," Aaron replied. "Can't say where they came from, but these here are eggs."

Cadre could see that Aaron wasn't joking -- or if he was joking, he was determined to continue joking until he'd run it into the ground. "Okay," he conceded. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Take 'em to the vet," Aaron said and lifted the crate. "And you're going to help me. We've got a couple of errands."

"We aren't going to work on the fence?"

"I've finished the fence -- you still owe me for it, though." Aaron carried the crate out to his truck and put it in the cab, beneath the passenger's seat. In the bed, Aaron had placed several of the obsidian slabs, layered between old quilts.

"What are you doing with the obsidian?" Cadre asked as he climbed into the passenger seat.

"That's one of the errands," Aaron said, climbing into the driver's seat and cranking the ancient machine to life.

The drive into the town was rough, rougher in the truck that was, most likely, older than Aaron himself. Cadre got nervous for the eggs, and pulled them out from beneath his seat. He leaned forward for most of the ride, steadying the eggs with his hands, even though it made his head bump against the dashboard.

"Here first, kid," Aaron said as he pulled the car to a stop. Cadre looked up and saw to his disappointment the old junkshop. He never went in there; there was nothing to interest a young boy.

"Come on, you have to help me with the obsidian," Aaron said. He drummed is fingers on the roof of the cab to make his point further and moved behind the truck. When Cadre made it back there, Aaron tossed him thick leather gloves and the two heaved the stone slabs to the store's door.

"Former!" Aaron shouted, kicking the door with his foot. "Former Cornelius, open the door!"

A strange young man let the two in a moment later. "Put it on the counter," he said.

Former didn't look much older than Cadre, more than five years but less than ten. He was dressed as if he was stuck in a decade he was far too young to have seen himself. His shoes, Converses, which were modern enough, were covered by a pair of tannish-red bellbottoms -- genuine bellbottoms too. He wore a thick leather belt, an oversized button-down shirt -- either dingy white or a faded yellow -- tucked in and then an equally oversized vest, matching the bellbottoms. Cadre fully expected to see the young man wearing circular sunglasses, an Afro, and a giant peace sign. Former, however, didn't oblige to be quite so stereotypical. Instead, he wore no excess accoutrements and his hair was cut in a rather conservative, if plain, style.

"What's this for?" Cadre asked once they brought the last piece of obsidian in.

"It's a surprise," Aaron replied.

"For you. Come here so I can measure you?" Former said as he unraveled measuring tape.

"What? What are you doing?" Cadre asked.

Former ignored him. "Stand still," he said. He made Cadre keep his arms out straight from his body as he measured various angles on Cadre's back, shoulders, and across his chest. Cadre took the time to look around the junkshop, and he discovered that there was indeed enough to catch a boy's attention. Anything that anyone had ever thrown out -- books, clocks, guns, knives, toys, tools, records, bits of metal, trinkets, jewelry, and plenty else -- was collected over the vast, cluttered surfaces of the junkshop. Cadre grinned as he allowed his imagination to take in and play with all he saw.

"He'll get bigger," Aaron said.

"Yeah," Former said. "But, he's not that big yet. Don't worry; there'll be room to grow."

Aaron shrugged. Former finally paid Cadre some attention. He smiled. "Aaron tells me that you're quite the herpetologist."

"The what?" Cadre asked.

"Herpetologist. It's a person who studies reptiles and amphibians. Aaron says you want to breed dinosaurs."

Cadre grinned, nodding. "I will too."

Former smiled again and went to one of the many bookshelves. "Here," he said, pulling out a rather large volume and handing it to Cadre. "That should help, and so should this." The second volume was skinnier, and leather-bound.

"It's blank," Cadre said, flipping through the second volume.

"It's a journal. The first is an encyclopedia just about herpetology. But the journal, well, every good scientist writes down what he observes. So next time you're out hunting for dinosaurs, write down what you see," Former said.

Cadre grinned. "Thanks -- but... I don't have any money."

"It's a gift," Former replied.

"Come on, kid, we've got other things we have to do," Aaron said as he left the shop.

"Bye, Former!" Cadre called and ran out to the truck.

####

Cadre sat on his bed, flipping through the herpetological encyclopedia from Former, as the crate sat beside his bed, lined with a thermal blanket. The rocks were eggs -- the vet confirmed. The shells were too thick to see anything, but there was definitely something in there. Cadre had discovered that there were pictures in the encyclopedia, and so found himself less able to read the articles. He was looking at the drawings and pictures of various reptilian eggs, occasionally glancing at the eggs in the crate, and finding himself more and more frustrated. These eggs couldn't have just dropped out of the sky. Surely they were in the encyclopedia. Finally, he gave up, dropping off the bed and squatting by the crate.

"I can't wait until you guys hatch. Then I'll be able to see what you are," Cadre said. He gently brushed one of the eggs, and smiled when he felt how warm it was. That was good, and he knew it.

He could hear the door behind him open, and he glared at it for not having the courtesy to knock first. His stepfather stood in the doorway. "Cadre, I'm looking for the electric- what is that?"

"What?" Cadre asked. His tone was that of the determinedly stupid.

"Cadre, what are those? Are those eggs?"

Cadre shrugged, now his stepfather stood before him with hands on his hips.

"Cadre, they better not be what I think they are."

"They're eggs," Cadre said, flopping on his bed and crossing his arms.

"I told you, you can't do this anymore! You can't bring lizards or lizard eggs home just because you have this fool-headed idea about breeding dinosaurs!" His stepfather's voice had a tendency to get louder and meaner the longer he talked to Cadre, now was no exception; except, there was a scary tinge to it that Cadre didn't recognize and didn't like.

Still, he felt rebellious. "Mom said it was okay!"

"I'm the one who makes the rules around here! Something could happen to my little girl."

"What could happen to her? The lizards will stay in my room -- they can't get her. She can't even crawl yet."

"I told you no," his stepfather said.

"Screw you," Cadre replied.

Cadre was surprised at the change he saw in his stepfather. It wasn't that he had calmed down or had suddenly realized the error of his ways. It was almost like something... cracked. Unnerved, Cadre watched as his stepfather went to the window and opened it wide. Even more unnerved, he watched as the man came back and picked up the crate. Cadre lunged for his stepfather's arm, but it was too late.

"I told you no!" he shouted and hurled the crated out the window, ripping the socket out of the wall from the sheer force of the throw.

Cadre ran to the window and watched the crate shatter on impact. The eggs bounced away. With a twist in his gut, he could hear the eggs crack. They were too thick to shatter with the tragic beauty of a robin's egg; no, instead they cracked and crumbled, spilling red goo. Only one completely split, scattering its contents across the lawn. Cadre was struck dumb, petrified for a moment, sick to his stomach, his breath catching in his lungs.

He didn't realize he moved. He couldn't comprehend his own actions as he grabbed his small wooden desk chair, swung it around, and broke it against his stepfather's

body. He heard more than just wood crack at the collision. Cadre watched his stepfather crumble to the floor, but he couldn't hear his scream. Cadre made for the door, but stopped and looked to the bed. The journal and the encyclopedia -- that was all he had left of the eggs. He grabbed them and ran outside.

He surveyed the damage on the lawn. Immediately, he saw the one egg that had split. He dropped to his knees and saw a small shape in the red goo. Carefully lifting it, he felt that it was a tiny body. Though reptilian, he couldn't make out any features; it was just too undeveloped. It fit in his hand perfectly, and he cradled it as he began to cry. The poor thing didn't deserve this; before it was even born, it had been abandoned by its parents, bore the hatred of a man who knew no other emotion, and killed, robbed of any chance it had. Cadre held it against his heart and sobbed.

In his despair, he saw the other eggs scattered about him. Two he could see bore cracks from which the red goo bled into the dirt; one had a hole in it, where what looked like a tiny hand hung out. The fifth was covered in the red. Desperate, Cadre piled the remains of the eggs into the electric blanket, holding them gently in his arms as he ran.

He ran away -- he wasn't sure where to, nor was he sure how long he ran.

He felt more than heard something running beside him. He didn't bother to look. He didn't care what it was. He just kept running.

The long canine howl, like a ribbon unraveling in the wind, floated into his ears, and Cadre somehow knew he was close to Aaron's homestead. He saw the light from the porch in the distance; the thing running beside him could only have been Shuck. As other things fell into formation around him -- Padfoot and their pack -- it was as if he was being guided home.

Cadre tripped on the lip of the porch, landing heavily against the screen door. He shouted something, but the words were lost in his sobs. Aaron was on the porch in a second, looking more concerned than Cadre would have thought possible.

"Boy, what is it? What's wrong with you?" he asked, grabbing Cadre by the shoulders. Cadre lifted the blanket full of murdered eggs so Aaron could see. Aaron merely sighed.

"Come on, boy," he said, leading Cadre around the back of the house. There was a porch there too, and Aaron sat Cadre down on the steps. He picked up a shovel from off the porch and plunged it into the ground where he stood. Gently, more gently than was his nature, Aaron lifted the blanket off Cadre's lap and stepped back to the shovel. Immediately, both Padfoot and Shuck nuzzled Cadre; in their own canine way, they tried to comfort him. Cadre gladly wrapped his arms around them, crying softly. He didn't look up as he heard the shovel slice into the ground.

By the time the digging stopped, Cadre had stopped crying. He could still hear Aaron moving -- for there was no other sound to interrupt them -- and he could guess what that movement signified. Then a movement he couldn't place broke in. "Look at this, boy," said a soft, gruff voice. Aaron was very close. Cadre looked up.

In Aaron's hands was one of the eggs, smattered in red goo. Cadre looked up at Aaron, confused. "It looks like it's all right. Go inside," Aaron said, pulling Cadre to his feet. "Wash it off and see." Cadre obeyed.

Cadre turned on the faucet and stuck the egg under the running water, gently rubbing it with his thumbs, though he couldn't focus on the sight before him. He was still doing this when Aaron walked back inside, easing Cadre out of the way so he could wash his hands. "Looks like it survived."

Cadre sat down at the table, arms spread out in front of him, and he examined the egg numbly. He could see no cracks.

"So tell me what happened," Aaron said.

"My stepfather threw them out the window." Cadre's voice was monotone.

"Why would he do that?"

"I said 'screw you.'"

"Mm, well."

Cadre stood. "I better take this one back to the volcano."

"Now, why would you do that?"

"I have to."

"Why?"

"Because I can't let him destroy this one too!" Cadre's voice cracked, and he felt tears stinging in his eyes.

Aaron stood. "Sit down, kid." With that, he disappeared back into the house. Cadre obeyed, and once he had collected himself, Aaron came back. He carried what looked like a large black mirror with a shoulder strap.

"I picked this up from Former today; it's what he was making for you. It's from the obsidian," Aaron said, and placed it on the table. It was huge.

"What... is it? A mirror?"

"Something like that," Aaron said. He took a book of matches from a drawer and struck one. He held the match up, allowing it to hover above the mirror for just a moment. He whistled, dropping the match.

The match fell, but it didn't stop, even as it struck the mirror's surface. Down it plummeted, quickly engulfed in the obsidian gloom.

Cadre stared at the mirror, dumbstruck. He reached over, and pressed his hand against it. It was solid. Then he started clawing at it, trying to find the hole into which the match had fallen, but the mirror was perfectly smooth. "What is it?"

"It's yours," Aaron replied. "You can put anything in there."

"Where does it lead?"

"Where do you want it to?"

Cadre's jaw fell open, and he looked back at the mirror. Aaron handed Cadre a whistle, around which was a note, secured by a rubber band. "Former said you were a smart kid. You'd figure it out."

Cadre took the whistle, pulling the note off and unfolding it, though he didn't read what was written there. "No one else can use it?"

"How will they know how?"

A smile crept across Cadre's face.

"Now, you need to go back home," Aaron said, standing up.

"I can't. I hit my stepfather with a chair. It broke..."

"It's happened before, and it'll happen again. You're young. He'll be able to forgive you."

"I doubt it. He hates me. I'm not going back."

"You can't stay here, Cadre. No living man can stay here. You've done your job, you've paid me back. Go home now." Aaron's voice sounded hollow, and far away.

Cadre looked up, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. He felt his body as he began to switch to a more instinctual mode.

"Go home. Go now."

Outside, Cadre could hear the howls of the pack rise. The hounds were circling the house. Cadre felt a primal fear in his belly. He walked out, though his entire body begged to run. He had to walk out. He couldn't run, because he'd never be able to outrun them.

He walked past the fence, and immediately, the howls died off. Still, Cadre didn't look back. He continued down the road, carefully shouldering the mirror. In his free am, he cradled the egg. Finally, he stopped and turned back. He blew the whistle, and listened as the tone echoed around him, swallowed in the darker gloom that hung around the ranch. He heard no reply, but he hoped the hounds and Aaron knew what it meant.

####

It had been several weeks since Cadre had last seen Aaron, and so much had changed. Cadre had been sent to live with his aunt in Carling, a city not too far away, but too far away to walk back. It was a port city, which explained the weirdness. He hadn't spoken to his stepfather since that fateful night, and his conversations with his mother had gotten more and more infrequent; his aunt was more forgiving than his parents, and gave him reasonable freedom -- though not nearly as much as his parents had.

As for the egg, it was close to hatching. Sometimes, he could even feel the baby inside move. And he'd kept it safe inside the mirror.

He had found through experimentation that the egg liked it hot -- real hot. So hot, in fact, that whenever he could, he would place the egg in the embers of the fireplace, and the baby inside seemed... happier. He couldn't explain how he knew, but he could feel it. Now, he sat by the fireplace, reading sentences and paragraphs in the herpetological encyclopedia, waiting for the egg to hatch. Every noise or movement caught his attention. Hours passed.

Finally, he looked up and grinned. There was a crack in the egg. "Come on, little guy," Cadre whispered. "Come on!"

The little lizard was working fast through the shell, faster than Cadre had expected -- maybe that was part of the heat. Cadre immediately grabbed his journal and started scribbling things down. Little black claws attached to long fingers -- he could see well developed scales, but not the coloring, as they were still covered in the red goo. Then an entire forearm, then it pulled that back in and looked out with one big amber eye. It made a chirping noise. "Come on!" Cadre squealed excitedly. It chirped again, sticking its nose out of the little hole.

For a moment, the reptile writhed within its egg, and abruptly the egg split practically in two. The little lizard scrabbled out, looking dazed and tired. It looked up to Cadre and chirped and whistled.

Cadre immediately picked the lizard up, running his fingers gently over the scales. "Hey, little buddy, you're a musical little one, huh? Don't worry, I'll take care of you. I've been taking care of you this whole time... You know what, I'm going to call you Cadence. That seems right."

Then his fingers hit something he didn't expect. In his excitement, he hadn't looked closely at the lizard. Cadre sat back, shifting Cadence into one hand. Cadence began chewing Cadre's thumb with sharp little teeth as Cadre examined her further. He lifted a strange appendage on her back. "Is... is that a wing?"

Cadre laughed, holding the lizard against his chest. "You're not a dinosaur, you're a dragon!" he cried. "Aaron and Former would love to hear that!"

Cadence looked up at Cadre and whistled happily in reply.

THE END


© 2010 Christa Lasher

Bio: Christa Lasher is a graduate student at Georgia State University. She has been writing in the fantasy genre for a number of years, and has participated in multiple writing workshops.

E-mail: Christa Lasher

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