“Dragon Girl” By Christine Stoddard

It was a well-known fact at Jebson High that Carlotta liked dragons. Truer still, she loved them, passionately. No matter where she went, whether to her meetings with the school literature magazine or the coffee shop, she carried a small, clay dragon in her purse. She named it Opus because she sculpted and baked it herself. It was her “pint-sized masterpiece,” an oxymoron she proudly tossed around to anyone who would listen. Not that there were many. Besides Opus, Carlotta claimed no other friends. All the students avoided her, even at the Jebson High lit mag meetings, where she served as the senior editor. “Not because you’re boring,” Opus whispered to her, “Certainly not because you’re boring.” Or at least Carlotta imagined Opus whispering to her. He could not speak. As far the cheerleaders and drama geeks alike were concerned, Carlotta nearly didn’t exist. She was as invisible as the immigrant janitors who scrubbed the school clean to the principal’s satisfaction every night. Only Carlotta’s possession of Opus distinguished her from the handful of social outcasts who ate in the restroom during lunch. Nobody else at school carried around such a strange toy, not even the special needs kids who imagined they were still in kindergarten. But Carlotta didn’t feel too old to clutch a dragon with the fervency of a five-year old boy obsessed with medieval warfare as interpreted by Fisher Price and Lego. Age appropriateness hardly concerned her. In fact, the girl reveled in the irony. Carlotta often removed Opus from her purse and perched him on her desk during classes. Anyone who noticed assumed Carlotta did that to attract attention to her craftsmanship. Opus was finely made, after all, brandishing delicate purple scales and iridescent eyes. But really Carlotta wanted Opus to receive his education. All dragons should learn to read the Classics, Carlotta reasoned. She wanted Opus to pay particular attention during biology class, however. Any mention of the cardiovascular system was especially important, she told him. He had to gather research; he had a task. And as a good little dragon, he would listen to his master. He knew ultimately it benefited him. What nobody realized---much to Carlotta’s delight---was that

Opus was her partner in crime. She wasn’t going to live four years going ignored without some revenge. Carlotta claimed more pride than that. She might have been a social outcast but she was no loser. Thanks to an especially lenient guidance counselor, Carlotta snagged a study hall period right before lunch every one of her years at Jebson. That lovely fact of course meant she had two free hours to herself everyday. Most kids her age probably would’ve taken advantage of this opportunity by going out for a few smokes, running home to play video games, or maybe hitting the mall. The less adventurous ones might just wander around the school corridors with a forged hall pass for a while. Maybe one out of one hundred would actually use the time to study and take care of homework. But what Carlotta did was much more rare. It should go without saying that a teenage girl who habitually carried around a clay dragon did not behave like most kids her age. No, Carlotta had other plans for her free time. And those plans most certainly didn’t involve pot or sales at Macy’s. As soon as the bell signaling the end of fourth period rang, Carlotta slung her bag over her shoulder. It was her favorite time of the school day. The girl nearly tripped over her classmates’ feet or books and tumbled into the hallway like some ragdoll just learning to walk. She had to be fast. Regardless of who walked in front of her, Carlotta shoved past them all. After pushing body after body, she tiptoed into the cafeteria and whipped out her clipboard. The clipboard held a map of the whole cafeteria, specifically the tables. After glancing at it, Carlotta jammed the map back into her bag and seized a napkin holder. Then she placed Opus into the napkin holder and slipped away before the cafeteria started filling up. Afterwards, she headed to the library and waited. At the library, it was a given that Carlotta read fairytales. She had ever since she was a small child. But, more interestingly perhaps, she buried her elfin nose into tomes about Latin grammar and medieval medicine. Nobody else touched those books so the librarian eagerly showed new arrivals to Carlotta. She knew the dragon girl would appreciate them, even if they intimidated all the other students. Once Carlotta filled her head up with enough strange ideas, she snuck into the cafeteria, removed Opus from the napkin holder, and then scurried to the nearest restroom. There, she plopped down on the toilet as if it were an armchair and ate her cold sandwich to the stench of piss. Somehow it was more comforting than the stench of a jock’s cologne, though. If anyone noticed how long Carlotta spent in the restroom---that she was indeed dining there and not just relieving

herself of that morning’s soda or apple juice---they didn’t say anything. Of course no one would have paid attention to her so it’s unlikely anyone ever noticed. At least she didn’t stink up the place. After lunch, Carlotta darted to class and propped Opus up on her desk, just as she had done in her previous class. She sat and absorbed. Then she recreated her temporary exhibition at her next class. Freshman year, Carlotta’s classmates had taunted her about the dragon. Some of them knocked the dragon over by purposely bumping into Carlotta’s desk and pretending it was an accident. A phony “Oops!” and “Sorry!” usually ensued, so the teachers couldn’t really say anything. Occasionally, a rowdy boy would snatch Opus from Carlotta’s desk and toss him to his friend across the room. One asshole simply dropped Opus in the garbage can for Carlotta to retrieve. He did this everyday for a week. But by senior year, the teasing had ended. Nobody so much as snickered. Carlotta knew their silence was torture enough. And she had a solution. It was her chance to laugh back. One day right before Christmas break, Carlotta scampered down the hallway as usual, but slowed down when she spotted a dark red splotch on the head cheerleader’s white shirt. She nearly skidded when she saw a similar splotch on the quarterback’s jersey. The lead in the school’s winter musical sported a splotch, too. As did the French club president, the National Honors Society treasurer, the chess club captain, the yearbook editor, and the school’s star gymnast. The splotch graced the elbow or forearm of each student but was so discreet that you had look for it. In other words, you had to know it was there. Never before had Carlotta seen so many students with such a similar stain, all in the hallway at the same time. It was so crowded and none of the “marked” students walked with “marked” companions. In fact, each student probably assumed that his stain was uniquely his own. Carlotta, however, realized that these stains were more than a coincidence. She knew who was responsible. She beamed as she stroked Opus, who sat at the bottom of her bag. Opus smiled back, his reptilian mouth curled at the corners. The confession should come now: Opus was not simply a clay dragon. He had been but then Carlotta performed her magic. On a fittingly stormy evening, Carlotta shrouded herself in a black cloak and tucked Opus beneath her arm. The full moon throbbed in the ebony sky. And Unbeknownst to her parents or neighbors, Carlotta tore into the woods behind her former elementary school only a block away from her home. Needless to say, no children frolicked in the playground that night.

Carlotta bulldozed her way through stalks of bamboo and cutting reeds with the same determination she channeled in her school’s corridors everyday between classes. She shed no mercy upon a single plant within her path. She stomped, trampled, and rammed. Then she halted when she came to a small clearing, right before a grand tree stump. It seemed ancient. Next, Carlotta scraped out clumps of moss from her pockets. She knelt down before the stump and gently covered its surface with a shallow, green carpet. Once she had fully blanketed the stump, she paused to inspect her surroundings. No one must witness this event, or else the spell would never solidify. The woods were empty. Only the sound of wind weaving in and out of the pouring rain accompanied Carlotta’s hurried breathing. The girl whipped out Opus from the depths of cloak and wedged him in the center of the stump. As the moonlight shone upon the little clay dragon, Carlotta closed her eyes and whispered a Latin incantation. Then she tapped the creature’s tail. It nudged her hand with its tiny snout. The girl touched her finger to its chest and felt the faint beating of its heart as it flapped its bat-like wings. Opus now claimed life but retained his original clay form. Nobody but Carlotta would know he was alive. Now Carlotta stood in the school hallway, marveling at the work of her petite creation. Thanks to Opus, everyone who had ever mocked Carlotta would get punished. They already wore the sign of Carlotta’s brilliant revenge. During Carlotta’s study hall period, while she flipped through books at the library, Opus hid in whichever cafeteria napkin holder his master had chosen that day. There were two lunch periods at Jebson High, one of which overlapped with Carlotta’s study hall. It was then that Opus attacked. He crept out of the napkin holder and nipped whoever sat at his assigned table. He was so quick and his bite so painless that none of his victims ever saw or felt anything. Most of them assumed they had accidentally wiped their sleeves in some ketchup. An innocent and clumsy mistake. They never would’ve suspected that a teeny dragon was drawing their blood as gently as a butterfly draws nectar from a flower. Once the period ended, Carlotta collected her bantam friend and asked him to spit out the blood into a glass vial. He did as instructed and stiffened his body for the rest of the day. The clay dragon didn’t even blink. He froze. After all, people would start to wonder if they saw him move. Everyday, straight after school, Carlotta went home. She ran out

of class, right to her bike, which she rode furiously. When Carlotta arrived, she greeted her mother, who was generally in the kitchen at that time. The early scents of a dinner-in-the-making swirled around in the air as Carlotta opened the front door. Mother and daughter chatted briefly about mundane things (“I got an A on my math test, Mom”; “Wonderful! Now, make sure you keep up the good work! You want to get into Sarah Lawrence, don’t you?”). Once the conversation faded into nothing but polite smiles, Carlotta disappeared to her room. Her sanctuary. She closed the door behind her, and plopped down on her bed. Then the magic began. It begin with Carlotta pulling open her desk drawer. She peered inside for a moment, already aware of what she wanted and where it was. She grabbed a pack of clay and unwrapped it. She even brought the clay up to her nose and sniffed it. It smelled of something too old to describe. A moment later, Carlotta rolled a clump of clay into a crude human form, kneading the earth in her palms until it warmed up. Soon her hands were burning. She withdrew the vial of blood from her bag and dunked the clay person into it. The clay person soaked in the blood and inflated just a bit. Suddenly, the clay person shook. It wiggled and writhed until the features of the person Opus had nipped began to emerge. The clay transformed into flesh. A nose and lips popped out from the little face. Hair---straight, curly, or wavy---sprouted from the little head, strand by strand in fast motion. Eyes grew, eyelids fluttered. Then came fingers, toes, ears, body hair, and anything from scars to freckles to moles. The little person, now fully formed and naked, stood at a mere inch. Carlotta took a piece of twine and hastily bound the little person. She removed Opus from her bag and offered the dragon his scrumptious dinner. A soul, whether good or evil, was his favorite meal.

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