My husband and I have always been open to the interspecies experience, both separately and together. When my husband was a kid, his family kept cats, dogs, birds, monkeys, fish, and even one alligator raised from a two-inch baby to a length of about two feet. “Allie” went to the zoo after that, so there’s no fear he’s running around the sewers somewhere.
As for me, I’ve kept cats and kittens for 25 years, and it was my idea to get the first of our carnivorous South American cichlids, an Oscar named Spot. We deal with the unfortunate results of hunting occasionally, and while we don’t like it, we understand it. Some creatures have to hunt to live. All their instincts tell them to, and for them, killing isn’t wrong or bad. It’s just the way they eat. It helps that both cats and Oscars are highly intelligent, teachable, interactive with humans, and capable of all sorts of behaviors that endear them to us as companions. For instance, our latest Oscar, Bem, actually eats fish food sticks from our fingers, just as Spot did. Despite being carnivores and having teeth, both fish were and are extremely gentle when performing this trick, as if they know not to bite the hands that feed them, even by accident.
Our respect for carnivores and the unusual pet helped attract our attention to an anonymous Internet pet adoption site one evening, one advertising for people to adopt “unusual carnivorous pets” with “special needs” and “high intelligence.” This sounded right up our alley, and we were intrigued by the mystery of the “absolute requirement for a “working fireplace” in the adoptive home.
We have one, so we filled out the online application, hit Submit, and heard nothing for a few weeks thereafter. We’d about decided it was all a prank when we were contacted by phone. Once we had an appointment, a person showed up to inspect our home, with particular attention to the welfare of our other pets and our working fireplace. She told us we’d hear something as soon as it was known we were keeping an adequate supply of wood on hand. How they’d know, or what was adequate, or even WHO would know, the lady didn’t say. She didn’t even give her name, really. I mean, she gave one, but when we Googled it, no one came up who could possibly be her.
A few days later, I came home from a crowded store and found a small, mottled, leathery little egg, mostly green and gold in color, in my purse. Also inside was a parchment scroll, no less. Someone had slipped them in there, no doubt while I left the cart for a moment to grab a bag of cat food. The scroll turned out to be instructions, and the egg was nestled inside a small brass pot, surrounded by live embers and still very warm. In fact, it was lucky I took the brass pot out when I did. My big quilted fabric handbag (large enough to conceal a PT Cruiser) was starting to smolder.
The first instruction on the scroll told us to start a fire and stick the egg right into the flames. The second instruction was to keep that fire going in all weather and at all costs until that egg hatched, so we did. We were the only people on the block who had a fire going from April first to July twenty-first of that year, an unusually warm one. Between the roaring fire and the 90-plus-degree heat of that summer, added to my late-middle-age hot flashes, I know now how Hell must feel.
Also according to the parchment instructions, we rotated the egg on a regular schedule with the fireplace poker, talked to it, and even pulled it out of the flames occasionally to cuddle it. The instructions told us where to buy those insulated Kevlar kitchen gloves and a glass-blower’s apron to make this safe, and we talked to the egg regularly to accustom it to our voices, as well as holding it to a candle flame to see what moved inside. Toward the end of the gestation period that the instructions specified, we checked the egg day and night. The instructions were very specific about both of us being there when the hatching took place. The creature inside the egg had to bond with its caregivers. If we were not there when the egg hatched, the “pet” inside would go wild, and that would be BAD. Very BAD.
The instructions also told us to choose a name and use it when talking to the egg, so we chose “Torchy.” It seemed appropriate for something that was constantly aflame and yet never seemed to burn.
Our cats hated the heat, but something made them stay as near to the incubating egg as the flames would permit without singeing their fur. All four alerted us when the egg chose 2 a.m. as a hatching time, by rushing into the bedroom and jumping all over us, yowling in concert. We were so busy prying off hysterical felines that we barely made it to the fireplace for the big event.
Just as we reached the hearth, the red-hot glowing egg burst with a POP! Like a shotgun blast. The shards of sizzling egg flew apart and disgorged a tiny red…dragon. Yes, a dragon. Torchy hatched out no bigger than a gecko, but you could still see the wings, the blue jewel eyes, the horn buds, the claws, and the star markings on his smooth , suede-soft hide. I couldn’t resist reaching for him when he fell onto the hearthstone, even though he was hot enough to burn my hands. My husband, always protective of me, stopped me and picked Torchy up himself, getting second-degree burns in the process. Thus, he became Torchy’s primary caregiver.
When I gave Torchy his first bite of the warmed ground meat the instructions told us to have ready, he accepted me, too. Starved from the rigors of birth, Torchy ate until his belly bulged and fell asleep in my husband’s hands. We petted him and crooned to him until Nebula, the cat who loves my husband best, got jealous and tried to swat Torchy. Torchy opened one eye to look at her, and she backed down without so much as a nasty hiss. We knew then that there would be no trouble with our cats…Torchy would dominate them all. Cats know how to pick their battles, and not one of them was willing to choose a scrap with Torchy, even as little as he was then.
We got online to report a successful hatching, just as we’d reported every milestone of the egg’s progress during the weeks of gestation. We got a message of congratulations and gratitude in return, and the next time we tried to access the site, it was gone. We were never able to get in touch through that site again.
We do continue to get occasional messages from other e-mail addresses or snail-mailings from P. O. boxes, offering much-needed advice and help on the care and feeding of young dragons. There’s a chat room where we give advice and help in return. Some of the messages are clearly from people who are also raising a baby dragon from the egg. I suspect that other correspondents are actually mature dragons, perhaps Torchy’s biological parents.
From these we know that Torchy is developing normally. At age 5, he is still a baby. He doesn’t flame yet, or fly very well, and, though his teeth haven’t come in so far, his horn buds have recently grown out. I was glad for the advice on how to ease the itch and aches of a “horning” baby dragon; lots of baby oil on the skin at the base of the horns, and a few crushed baby aspirin in very hot chamomile or catnip tea. Torchy prefers chamomile.
We’ve also learned other useful things, like just how smart a baby dragon can be. We’ve been able to teach him not to harass the cats too much. He already understands that he isn’t supposed to eat them, it’s not nice. So far we haven’t lost anybody. He did try to bite Nebula once but she had tried to steal his raw meat again. We’ve been told to feed it to him raw until he begins to breathe flame; he likes it cooked, but we want him to do it himself.
He is also beginning to talk. He speaks fair English, but some words are difficult. He’s very good with sibilants like “s” or “z”, but he doesn’t have lips, so labials like “P”, “b” or “d” are a problem for him. He was apparently born knowing how to speak Dragon, so we are learning it.
Until we do, we can communicate fully in writing. Torchy can write, if we provide him with ink that he can dip a claw into , and good strong paper. Crayolas don’t work; he can’t grip them well and he loves the taste . I’ve told him not to eat them because they give him gas, but some things are as irresistible as candy would be to a human baby. I’ve had to hide both the crayons and my Dry-Erase markers. If you’ve ever smelled fresh asphalt on the road to an oil refinery and a sewage treatment plant, you’ll get the idea how dragon gas smells!
We also discovered he can read quite well. This came about when he told us why he wasn’t trying to eat the fish in our aquariums, even though he watches them longingly by the hour and drives Bem into nervous breakdowns. “Ssssign say no fissshing, Mama,” he told me. “I goo’ boy, not fish .” Needless to say, I left those little decorative signs in the fish tanks after that.
We’re trying to socialize Torchy with other people now, but the only times we can take him out are during Renaissance festivals, when people might not think it’s so unusual to see a man carrying a small dragon on his shoulder. To accomplish this task, we’ve taught him to freeze on command, and he’s very good at it although he is still has a baby’s short attention span. I understand that a mature dragon can remain motionless and silent for upwards of a year if need be; Torchy is good for a few hours at best. But he’s learning.
Torchy is supposed to live a very, very long time. How long, we aren’t told, but his childhood will span decades, maybe a century. We will live as long as that lasts…one of the benefits of bonding with a baby dragon.
Once our unlikely dragon son no longer needs us, we’ll be so old that we’ll probably just go like blown candle flames. In the meantime, we won’t get sick, and our own pair-bonding will remain strong because Torchy needs both his adoptive parents and a home full of love. We are told that our loving but childless relationship was one of the main reasons we got picked as dragon parents. Dragons, contrary to their bad press, are wise and loving creatures who cherish and nurture their rare and precious young.
It’s why they are sending them out into the human world; it’s for their future. They want to come back, sharing the world they once ruled. They feel that the best way to teach humans not to fear them is to show us that human and dragon can coexist, and even love each other as family.
So, say hi to Torchy as you pass on your way. If you would like a dragon child of your own, keep watching the Internet and the personal ads. If you love fish and fowl, snakes and lizards, dogs or hogs, rats and cats and elephants, all creatures great and small, you too may have a baby dragon in your future. It’s worth the occasional need to fish him out of the warm, sooty fireplace flue by the tail, or having to find where he’s hidden your earrings again…Torchy loves bright and shiny. If you can deal lovingly with the trials and rewards of caring for a demanding living creature, you will be found and given your chance.
If it happens, raise your dragon baby well. Dragons are watchful parents, who give up their eggs only to the worthy…those who know that humans share the world with all other forms of life.
We hope you’re one of them.
© 2007, Margaret R. Cartwright
Salisbury, N. Carolina