My problems at school and at home didn't start until after my pa died in a car accident coming home from work. It was ruled as an accident – the roads had still been slick with slush after the bulldozers had come through the streets of Winterville.
Still, I had been close to my father, closer than close in some ways, and then he was gone.
I rebelled. My ma moved us out of Winterville and into a town called Coppertown in the spring of 2075, only three months after we laid pa to rest. I hated moving and I hated the new town we were living in so I got into things Ma said no child should get into.
I drank alcohol any time I could get it. I smoked pot and sold it as a dealer. I dressed all in black – a pair of black Tripp pants with silver chains hanging down, a black tee-shirt bearing the phrase "My imaginary friend thinks you have serious mental problems," and orange and black arm-warmers to cover the thin scars running the width of my wrists where I had slit them twice.
I had some help from some friends at Coppertown High, and we set off some sparklers in one hall, almost thirty in all and watched and laughed as teachers danced among them, trying to put them out.
Ma told me I had better quit if I wanted to remain in her house. I didn't. The following week, we toilet papered all the bathrooms after school and started a small fire during chemistry class.
But that wasn't what really ticked Ma off. No, what got to her was when she had to come to the county courthouse and bail me out of jail because I hadn't been smart and had tried to sell pot to an undercover cop.
"Moon Ninia Callister!" she shrieked when she saw me.
I rolled my eyes, but she bailed me out and when we got home, she broke down and snapped. "Why can't you be more like your brother and sisters?" she snapped.
I looked at them: my older brother Skylar, my older sister Echo, and my younger sister Sunny – my favorite of them.
"Impossible," I said in a low voice.
"Yes, but why?" she said, exasperated.
"Because he's dead! Pa is DEAD, Ma! I don't know why you can't realize that! He is dead and I hate it!"
"We all do, but that's no reason to be selling pot. I bet you are smoking it too. You are, aren't you?" she asked.
I did not answer. Truthfully, I had only smoked pot a total of five times and each time I had added a scar to my wrists afterward.
My ma knew the answer even though I didn't say it. She stood and put her face in her hands as she let the tears fall. I was her worst child, I knew, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Then, as if she suddenly knew what to do with me, she wiped her tears away and looked at me. "I want you out," she said in a low voice. My brother stiffened, my older sister gasped, and sweet Sunny watched my reaction sadly. Poor baby Sunny. She was only five-years-old. How had I brought such tragedy to her?
"All right, I am gone," I replied and began to go for the door.
"No!" Sunny shouted and ran towards me.
I stopped and faced her as she wrapped her little arms around me. "Don't go!" she sobbed. My face softened and I felt like I was losing my pa all over again.
I knelt down beside Sunny and looked at her. "Don't worry, Sunny-girl; I will be back to see you."
"Not as long as you're doing drugs, you won't. I don't want my daughter learning about them from you," Ma snapped.
I glared at her for a moment and looked at Sunny again. "How about this – I'll write when I can? Does that sound good?"
Sunny sniffed loudly and nodded. I smiled. "Now you be a good girl and listen to everyone, all right?" I asked.
"But, where will you go?" she asked. "Where will you sleep at night?"
"Don't worry," I told her. "I have some connections." Actually I didn't. Any of the dealers I had been selling pot for wouldn't take me since I had been caught. There was too good a chance I'd be caught again and bring them down with me.
She nodded though and stepped back as I stood up. "See you all," I said and left. I didn't even look back.
I was halfway down some highway leading out of town and looking up at the sky, or what I could see of it past the dome, when the car stopped behind me.
'Yes," I said and kept walking.
"Turn around. We want you to see this coming." I didn't turn around. I knew it was one of the dealers I had worked for and I was less than thrilled to hear him behind me.
"I said turn around, Moon Callister!" he shouted.
"Bite me!" I replied.
I heard a shot and felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as the bullet made a through and through but I was unconscious of the fact. I kept walking. I knew it was very possible for a person to do this and the pain of a bullet in my shoulder felt almost as good as a razor against my wrist.
"Moon Callister, if you ever come back to Coppertown, I'll kill you!" he shouted after me.
"Whatever," I replied.
After that I made it to the border patrol with no problems. The guard on duty at the gate looked at me. "State your business," he said. Typical guard – wanted to look good.
I looked at the dome exit-entry without comment for a while. Each dome was different – a force field of power that regulated temperature, climate, light, and darkness within the cities. Between domes were miles of open space and highways, trees and animals, rivers and oceans, wild lands.
"Ma'am?" the guard said.
"I'm leaving," I said.
"I know. I'll live."
He shrugged after a moment and held out his hand. "A dollar," he said.
I scrounged around in my pocket. I had completely forgotten that they charged to let you enter and leave domes. It all had something to do with energy.
Luckily, I found a dollar and handed it to him. "Don't you guys usually charge ten bucks?" I asked, not really caring.
"Yeah," he said and opened the dome just enough for me to shimmy under.
"Thanks," I said with real gratitude and was gone but I heard his, "Your welcome," and saw his smile as the door closed.
And just like that, I was out of Coppertown and on my own.
I walked only a few feet into the darkness before weariness and bloodloss claimed me as their victim and I lay beside the road and went to sleep.
I awoke to hot breath on my cheek and sat up rubbing my eyes. A young man crouched beside me with a look of worry on his face and a box beside him. I noticed the box was a first-aid kit. I looked at my shoulder and saw he had bandaged it.
I looked behind me to see what had breathed on me and gasped. It was a dragon, about the height of a house and the length of a semi with tawny gold scales on its hide and orange eyes. It looked like a tyrannosaurus with large leathery wings to replace short arms and a crest, much like that of a pteranodon, atop its head. It was the first animal I had ever seen outside of pictures as no one living in the city was permitted to have any and I welcomed the excitement that coursed through me like a welcome friend.
"What are you doing on this side of town with a hole in your shoulder?" the young man asked, yanking me from my thoughts.
"Leaving," I replied and stood up. I twisted my shoulder to see if I could use it and lifted my arm. It still worked well so I was happy. "Thanks for the help," I said and began walking.
The dragon growled and the man whispered soothing words to it. "Where are you planning on going?" he asked.
I pulled a joint from my pocket and lit it. "Anywhere but here," I said as I took a puff of it. I caught up my tags around my neck and sliced a new mark on my wrist. I flexed my hand to make the blood well, relishing in the pain as I took another puff of the joint.
"That's bad for you, you know," he said and I noticed he was walking beside me.
"No shit, Sherlock!" I snapped. The dragon growled again. "Go away!"
"It's fifty miles to the nearest city. Do you think you can last that long without water or food?"
I made a mental note of how he said water first. I looked around. "There are berries and mushrooms and watering holes. If I die from them, I die from them."
"You don't have much appreciation for life, do you?" He sure was annoying.
I looked at the joint I was smoking. "Not really, no."
He was silent and for a moment I thought he had left but when I looked in his direction, there he was, walking with me and staring at me.
"Got anywhere specific to go?"
"Not really, except I have just made it my mission to get away from you. You are beginning to creep me out."
He laughed. "You can't mean that."
"If I say it, I mean it."
He sobered up and looked at me again. I sighed and stopped to face him. "Look, I am not some beast you can just stare at," I said and took another puff of my joint. I was down to the snub now and could put it in my cigarette box to re-roll later. I did so without comment.
"You are an enigma to me," he said.
"Good. It's the impression I like to give because it's true."
He frowned and I actually found myself looking at him, I mean really looking at him. He was taller than me and could easily pick me up and toss me over his shoulder if he really wanted to, something I found just a little disturbing. He was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, blue, no design, simple. His brown hair was cut short and his brown eyes were cheerful and curious. He had a splash of freckles across his nose although I could tell he was at least five years older than I was. Every man I had known grew a beard if they could. I even distinctly remembered that last night guard having one.
I reached up to touch his jaw in wonder. It was as smooth as Sunny's bottom had been as a baby. That was when I noticed his ears, pointed and long.
"You're an elf!" I said, surprised. This was something else that I only read about. Some humans were born without hair on their jaw and pointed ears. It was rare, due to some birth defect that appeared sometime around the late 2000's and I had never met anyone with it. People born with the birth defect were called elves because that was what they looked like.
He grinned. "Yeah, so?"
I stared at him for a moment and then shook my head and frowned. He seemed almost alien now that I knew he was an elf. He wasn't any different but it felt different to stand next to him now. I needed to move.
So I did. I started walking again. "Listen Miss Stranger," he said and caught my arm almost as if her was afraid he'd hurt me.
That was what really pissed me off. I turned on him, eyes flashing fire. "Listen, Elf-boy, do not touch me. I am grateful that you helped me, don't get me wrong, but I think it's best if you just take off and forget you ever met me."
"Why?" he asked.
I stopped and glared at him. "Because I told you to. Do you have a problem with that?" I asked and began walking again.
"Hey Honey, how far do you think she'll get before she's picked up, raped, and murdered? Cops have no jurisdiction outside the domed cities."
I growled and turned around, already balling my fist. "You know what," I said, hiding the fear in my voice. "I really am sick of you." Before I could consider what the dragon might do to me, I slammed the young man in the jaw. I knew what he said was true and that was why I was afraid but I'd be dead before I admitted to him that I was afraid.
He lay sprawled on the ground and looked up at me in shock, as if he hadn't known that I would do that. I ignored the dragon's growls and turned away. "And don't even think of following me, Elf-boy," I snarled.
I walked all day and lasted without water for so long probably because it was cloudy and going to rain. I wondered what that would feel like, the rain. I had never been outside a domed city in the rain, even when Ma had driven us from Winterville to Coppertown.
It was nearly dark and the rain clouds were gathered and thunder rumbled angrily and I was tired, hungry, and thirsty when I saw the car beams ahead of me. I shielded my eyes but it was needless. The car stopped and three men climbed out.
I was too tired to care what they wanted. I needed a joint and badly and my shoulder throbbed. But despite my weariness and hurt, I felt fear. Sharp, raw, terrible fear. It ate at my bones and made me come alive.
The men seemed far away but I couldn't really tell. I was tired and my eyes were playing tricks on me.
"I get her first," a bull of a man said and I didn't even care when the other two grabbed me and slammed my back against the hood of the car.
My shoulder felt like it was on fire and I felt fresh blood stream from it but I felt my fear most of all. I was too weak to fight. I wished that Elf-boy had stayed with me after all.
Then, just as the bull-man got close to me, a roar rang out loud and clear. It hurt my ears but at the moment I didn't care. It could have been any kind of dragon I heard, and I knew it was a dragon, but then I heard Elf-boy's voice and felt something kin to relief.
"Stay away from her!" he shouted.
The men laughed when they saw Elf-boy standing there with a dragon standing behind him. It was at that moment that the rain decided to pelt down and the thunder decided to beat its drums.
I welcomed the cold wetness as I had welcomed the dragon's roar and smiled.
The men, on the other hand, had other ideas. The bull-man dragged me upright and shoved a knife under my chin. Elf-boy started to come toward me, concern written in his eyes, but the bull-man said, "Stop boy, or I'll gut her."
"Sure you will," I snorted. "Your hand's trembling."
"Shut up!" he snapped.
"She won't," Elf-boy said.
"You're worse!" I snapped and he grinned. "You know, if you're going to kill me, get it over with. If you're not, hand me a joint so I can smoke while you two are talking."
"No!" Elf-boy cried.
"No?" Bull-man and I asked at the same time.
"No," he said.
"Why the hell not?" I asked. "Listen, Elf-boy, I don't know about you but I have no life. My pa is dead, my ma kicked me out of the house, my sister thinks I am a failure, and I just plain don't give a shit. Tell me what about this life is so gosh-darned worth living. Goddamn was the only cussword I didn't use. Not because I believed in God or anything because I didn't anymore, but because I thought it was ride to discredit someone's religion.
"Dragons," he said in a low voice.
"Wait! You two know each other?" Bull-man asked.
"We've met," I snarled. I was glaring at Elf-boy even though raindrops were stinging my eyes.
"Boss, it seems to me they are lovers in a quarrel."
"You are correct," Bull-man said.
Elf-boy's facial expression turned to one of amusement while mine turned to one of complete rage. "Lovers?" I shouted. "Me and that snot-faced dragon-lover!"
The three men looked at each other and seemed to come to a decision. "Lovers," they said in unison and let me go. I sat in the road and did not rise as they got in their car, backed up, and drove around me, Elf-boy and his dragon.
I was too weary to get up, too angry to speak, and too hurt to move. I didn't mind any of those three though when Elf-boy touched my good shoulder. I pulled away and snarled at him. "Don't touch me! Lovers? Ha!" I got up and turned to look at him. He still wore that amused expression.
"I told you not to follow me," I snapped.
"I just knew you would get into trouble if I didn't so I had Honey follow close by yes."
Honey? The dragon's name was Honey?
I looked at her and heard her growl at me. "I don't think she likes me too much," I said in a low voice, more to myself than to him.
He laughed. "On the contraire, she finds you amusing."
I glared at both of them. "Well, it's nice to know I am a nice sideshow. Have fun."
I turned away and began walking when he grabbed me about my arms and pulled me back. "Elf-boy, you are really beginning to annoy me!" I hissed.
He chuckled near my ear. "I think you say that to everyone," he said and wrapped his arms around me. I turned my head away from him but his mouth trailed along my neck anyway.
"Leave me alone!" I hissed at him and pulled away.
He laughed. "I am just teasing."
"Well it's not funny Elf-b…"
"Eric," he interrupted me.
"Fine, Eric," I said.
He watched me for a moment in silence. "What's your name?" he asked finally when he saw I wasn't going to say anything.
I sighed and brushed wet hair from my eyes. "Moon Callister,' I said in a defeated voice.
"Well-named," he said. I guess he noticed I was named for my pale skin, gray eyes, and black hair. I grunted.
"Come on, Moon," he said and started walking toward the dragon – Honey.
"No way." Now that the men were gone, my fear was gone. Now that the fear was gone, I wished Eric was gone.
"Sorry?" he said, as if he hadn't heard me.
"I am not going anywhere with you."
"After I saved your life?" he asked.
"By convincing them we were lovers?" I retorted.
He laughed. "You have to admit that was pretty funny."
"Well yeah, but that's beside the point."
"Listen Moon, I am sorry I have to do this but…" He trailed off and before I could protest, threw me over his shoulder, as I had known he could.
"Eric! Put me down! Put me down right now!" I screamed.
He laughed and smacked my bottom. "Stop squirming," he said and looked at Honey. "A little help here."
Honey obliged, wrapping her thick tail around us and lifting us up to the saddle on her back. Eric sat astride before even attempting to put me down. Then he put my feet down on the saddle, turned me around so that my back was to his chest, and forced me to sit down.
There was a really high back to his saddle and he leaned back comfortably. I sat stiff and in a huff. "Oh come on Moon. You can't really be angry with me, can you?" he asked.
"Yes I can."
He laughed as Honey's launch into the air threw me back so that I lay against his chest. "You get used to the takeoffs," he said.
I didn't want to get used to the takeoffs. I wanted to be as far away from Eric as I could get. I grumbled for a while but then the steady beat of Honey's wings began to sooth me and my weariness crept up on me and I fell asleep, leaning against Eric, ignoring the rain as it poured down, ignoring the thunder as it bashed loudly.
I awoke in a clean bed, completely dry and clean with a pan of bread and soup waiting on a small table not far away and a glass of clean, clear water next to it. I looked down at myself and shrieked. I was wearing a low-necked shirt that clearly showed the bandage that traveled around my body to cover my shoulder and a long white skirt. My hair had been pulled back and was braided halfway down my back where it was allowed to finish off loose. I hadn't worn my hair up since I was seven.
"What's wrong?" Eric asked, coming in.
"What did you do to me?" I asked. "Where are my clothes?"
He laughed. "I think it's an improvement."
I looked at my arms. "Can I at least get some gloves?" I asked hotly.
"I'll see if Sally can spare any, yes. Now, eat. Sally will be back to see you soon."
I glared at his retreating back but moved to the floor and ate. I was famished and the bread and soup were like heaven in my opinion.
"I see you're awake," the voice of a woman said.
I looked up at the blond-haired woman with her dark eyes and felt suspicion rise up within me like a monster. I thought this was Sally but I didn't know.
"Eric was right. You are as flighty as a deer. What has made you so?"
"I don't trust people. You can't count on anyone but yourself. The whole fucking world is a zoo and you have to learn to survive in it."
"I see," she said. "Are you well?"
"As well as I can be."
"Please don't be mad at Eric. Everyone here loves him so. Maybe that was why he took such a liking to you. He has only tried to help you."
"By putting me on a dragon and bringing me here and taking my clothes and…"
"I took your clothes and washed them. They were a right mess – covered in mud and blood. I also saw fit to outfit you in some of my clothes after getting you cleaned up so you wouldn't have to walk about naked."
I shut my mouth. "Do you have gloves I can wear?"
"If you didn't want to see the marks, why did you make them?" she asked.
I was really getting frustrated with this woman. "Do you or do you not have any gloves?"
"Not," she said.
I sighed. "Come with me if you are finished." I stood and followed her out of the room and in turn outside.
Outside was a clearing about the size of two or three football fields and then jungle-like woods ahead of us and mountains behind the house.
Eric bounded up to me. "Come on Moon. I want you to see the hatchery!"
I followed him then after a nod from Sally, shaking my head at how like a child he was acting.
He climbed the rocky hillside effortlessly while I jumped around rocks in my path since I had had my combat boots taken too. "Moon?" Eric asked, looking back at me. "Why didn't you say something?"
"Because I don't need help," I said, but he bent down and picked me up anyway.
"Has anyone ever told you how annoying you are?" I asked.
"Plenty of times, but none of them openly hate me as you do, which makes it so much more fun to piss you off."
"Hmmm," I replied.
He put me down as the ground leveled out and the rocks became less frequent and leaves more frequent. Then we came to a giant pit in the ground with about seventeen eggs the size of bowling balls inside. The eggs were pale yellow with splotches of dark golden-yellow splashed across their surfaces.
"Go look at them," he said to me. I looked at him quickly and he nodded, his eyes twinkling. I took a tentative step toward the nest and then walked in. I put a hand on one egg and felt its warmth and smoothness.
"What's it like?" Eric asked as he crouched next to me.
"Like a dream," I murmured as I cast an eye over the eggs.
He smiled as I put my cheek against the egg to feel its warmth seep into my skin. "Do you want to help care for them?" he asked softly.
My eyes widened at the offer, but I couldn't do it. "No, I c… can't. I… I… have to go." I stood up to leave but Eric caught my hand and turned me so that I was looking at the eggs.
For a long time, neither of us spoke. Finally, he said: "We are plain people, living in the middle of nowhere in the wild lands, breeding and raising dragons. I heard you say you have nowhere to go, nothing to do except cut your wrists ¾ " His hands ran along the scars as he said that, "¾ and smoke pot. Please stay here. Please stay with us – with me."
I looked at him. "Why should I?" I asked. "Why do you care?"
"Because I can," he said softly and pulled me against him. I offered no protest. "Please stay," he pleaded.
Despite what Sally said I thought of Eric, I didn't hate him. He annoyed me… a lot sometimes, but I offered him no ill will. I think it mostly blew my mind that he wanted anything to do with me after learning as much about me as he had.
"How can you want me to stay, knowing I use drugs?" I whispered.
He didn't say anything for a moment. "Because I know you didn't always use drugs and you just need a chance to get off them and return to a normal life. Most people won't give the time of day because of your drug problem and because of that, I will."
I could feel the tears run down my face and I quickly wiped them away before he could see them. It was then that I realized how much I had needed a friend and some stable ground to rebuild my life on, and I would do anything to keep his friendship.
I nodded. "I'll stay," I said.
"Thank you!" he cried and hugged me tighter. Too much. I pulled away. "Right, sorry," he said and I laughed.
"Do you want a male or a female?" he asked me, looking at the eggs again.
"How can you tell them apart?"
He pointed. "The eggs with male dragons inside are slightly larger. Plus, there's only one per clutch."
"Because only one male is needed to populate the wild lands."
"Oh," I said and looked at the egg I had first touched. "That one."
"Well, go get it then!" he said, laughing.
"Won't the mother dragon be displeased?"
"Honey knows I am letting you take one."
I nodded and carefully lifted the egg. Despite its size, it was surprisingly light. I had no problems carrying it back to the house and Eric had no problem carrying me and it down the rocky path.
Later that night, as I lay on a pallet on the floor beside Eric, listening to him talk about the dragons and their aspects and watching the egg sitting before the fire, I thought about the events that had led to this.
Maybe I'll write to Sunny about it.