Animals fed, Jeremy sat down to study the ball. Shoving aside a stack of unfinished drawings, he placed the box in the center of his desk and took off the lid.
It's like a kaleidoscope, he thought, as the colors swirled in the light of his desk lamp. Except you don't need to look through a tube to see it.
Marveling that the old man had sold him such a wonder for only a quarter, Jeremy reached out to touch its glossy surface. With a cry of surprise he pulled back his hand.
The ball was warmer than before. Eying it nervously, Jeremy unfolded the paper the old man had tucked into the box. Probably directions for keeping it clean, he thought, as he spread the paper out on his desk. But when he looked at it, he blinked in surprise.
A picture of a dragon stretched up the left side and around the top corner of the page. A burst of flames extending from its mouth separated into fiery letters that said, "How to Hatch a Dragon's Egg."
Jeremy frowned. What kind of fool does that old man think I am?
The whole thing was ridiculous. But it was also intriguing, so he decided to read the rest of the page, which had been written by hand in a script that was loose and spidery.
HOW TO HATCH A DRAGON'S EGG
The egg you have just purchased has already gone through a long aging process. It now needs but two things to be ready to hatch -- the light of a full moon, and the words of a true friend.
To quicken the egg, take it outside at midnight on the night of the next full moon. Lift it to the moonlight and whisper: Full moon's light to wake the egg, Full moon's light to hatch it; Midsummer Night will crack the world, But St. John's Day will patch it.
Exposethe egg to the moonlight for at least three hours, then await the results.
You have been entrusted with a very special creature, Jeremy Thatcher. Treat it with care, for its safety depends upon your willingness to follow these directions exactly.
It goes without saying that secrecy is essential.
-S. H. Elives
Jeremy felt the hairs at the back of his neck begin to prickle. How did that old man know my name? he wondered. He was sure he had never mentioned it.
"Hey, Bub!" said a voice, making him jump.
The voice came from a speaker mounted on the wall next to his desk -- part of the intercom system his dad had installed during the last burst of what Jeremy's mother called "Herbert's occasional electronic enthusiasms."
"Hey, Bub," repeated his father. "Are you there?"
"I'm here," said Jeremy, somewhat reluctantly.
"Well, you shouldn't be. You should be here, getting your chores done."
Despite the admonishing words, Dr. Thatcher's voice was cheerful.
"Be right there," said Jeremy, trying to sound enthusiastic.
Slipping the instructions under a pile of his drawings, Jeremy headed out of his room and down the stairs. With Grief bouncing at his heels, he ambled down the winding driveway, past the pair of small barns, to his father's veterinary office. Stepping inside, Jeremy found his father shoving vitamins into a ferret.
"Hold still, ho-o-old still," crooned Herbert Thatcher to the squirming mass of brown and yellow fur in his hands. "Ah, there's a love!"
Jeremy reached out to take the ferret.
"Hey, kiddo," said his father, handing over the animal. "How was your day?"
Jeremy put the ferret on his shoulder. The action gave him a chance to think about his father's question.
"Complicated," he said at last, squirming a bit as the little animal licked his ear.
Dr. Thatcher raised an eyebrow, his way of requesting more information.
"Well, for one thing, Mary Lou Hutton wants to kiss me."
Dr. Thatcher wrinkled his nose. "That's what you get for being so cute."
"I'm not cute!"
"Okay, you're ugly. Put Farrah in her cage and go feed the cats. I've got one more patient to see before I can knock off for the night."
Jeremy caged the ferret, then found the cat food and began filling the dishes. In the next to last cage crouched an enormous orange-and-white cat with tattered ears and a swollen eye.
"Hey, Pete," said Jeremy. "How ya doin'?"
The cat -- whose full name, according to his owner, was "Fat Pete, Porkus Extrernus" -- was in the office at least once a month to get stitched up after one of his fights. While today's eye problem was new, the tattered ears had been that way for years.
Jeremy reached through the bars to scratch behind Pete's ears. The cat responded by clawing his hand.
Jeremy pulled back. "Why, you rotten..."
"Jeremy!" called his father from the other room. "What's the rule?"
Jeremy sighed. "There's no sense in getting mad at a cat for being a cat." He knew it was true, but he stuck his tongue out at Pete anyway.
After all the animals were fed, Jeremy and his father walked back to the house. The sky was dark with clouds, and in the distance they could hear a rumble of thunder.
"When's the next full moon?" Jeremy asked suddenly, as they reached the back door.
Dr. Thatcher, who was apt to burst into song whenever something reminded him of a Iyric, threw back his head and sang, "Full mooooon brings empty heart --"
Dr. Thatcher paused. "I don't know," he said. "But it can't be long. Go get today's paper."
"I don't think a full moon counts as big news, Dad."
"Just get the paper."
Jeremy got the paper. His father showed him the almanac on the inside of the first page. It told when the sun came up, when it was going to set, what time the moon rose and set, and other equally trivial things.
"They're not so trivial when you want to know them," said Dr. Thatcher. "Anyway," he continued, pointing to the almanac, "to answer your question, the next full moon is tonight."
Dr. Thatcher glanced at his watch. "Starting in about two hours," he said. "Assuming it doesn't rain."
Jeremy swallowed. He didn't really believe the thing upstairs was an egg. But if he wanted to know for sure, he'd have to start tonight. Either that, or wait another whole month.
Leaving his father, he went upstairs to look at the ball. He picked it up and held it for a moment. It was warmer than ever. Pulling out the directions, he made up his mind.
Tonight he would try to hatch a dragon.
Copyright © 1993 by Bruce Coville