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By Andreas Zimmermann
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Andreas Zimmermann
All right reserved.
The front door burst open and the three siblings crashed into the house. Freedom for the summer holidays was here at last!
"Mom! We're home!" Alex shouted happily, his grin stretching from ear to ear.
Alex and his brother and sister, Jared and Madison, kicked off shoes and tossed their backpacks to one side. The last day of school was finally over, and they were fully prepared to enjoy their summer break! All the way home, the three of them had talked about the movies, video games, bike rides, hiking and other adventures they would experience. What else could a twelve, ten and eight year old do?
"I think I know who just got home!"
They were expecting to hear the voice of their mom responding to them, not this deep baritone. All three kids looked up in time to see a tall man step around the wall from the kitchen, his arms opened wide. His hair and neatly trimmed beard were coloured red, and he had a strong, athletic build. The wide smile on his face beamed at the children.
"Uncle Richard!" All three exclaimed, making a beeline for him. Madison was a step behind the boys – her left shoe had gotten stuck and she was having trouble shaking it off.
Uncle Richard was an affectionate title; he wasn't actually a blood relative. He was a close friend and business partner of his parents and because of his friendly relationship with the whole family, the kids called him 'Uncle'.
Jared and Alex tumbled into Uncle Richard with the force of stampeding rhino's. Uncle Richard stumbled backward in mock agony, dropping to the ground and rolling backward as the boys attacked. The giggles started almost immediately as the tickle war began. Madison made it into the fray an instant later, jumping on top of all three of them with no plan in particular, other than to join the dog pile. Several minutes of guttural grunting, laughing and shouting ensued, and it was some time before Uncle Richard panted for the trio to stop.
"You're getting bigger and bigger all the time! I'm not sure I am going to be able to win next time!"
Jared's face was wild and he sported a large grin, obviously ready for more. His thick, dark and normally straight hair, which was a mirror of his mother's, now looked like a rats nest. His blue eyes twinkled merrily; he was the most physical of the siblings, for certain. "You didn't win this time! We pinned you and you know it!" he exclaimed.
"No, I don't think so. I distinctly remember you shouting for mercy several times." Uncle Richard replied, eyeing Jared carefully. Jared grinned harder and dove into Uncle Richard again. Jared was known to be relentless, a little tank that would never stop. Uncle Richard laughed and tickled Jared more, producing a large fit of laughter, collapsing Jared into a puddle of giggles on the floor.
"Alright kids, that's enough!" Mom called from the other end of the kitchen. "Richard only arrived a few minutes ago and hasn't even had a chance to sit down yet. Go put your things away and wash up before you come back to visit some more. And goodness, please all of you comb your hair! You all look homeless after that little wrestling match!"
All of the kids let out an "Awww" before complying with Mom's orders. Alex and Madison had matching dirty-blonde hair, Alex's cropped short and Madison's long and flowing. Alex quickly passed a hand over his head and smoothed out the ruffles; Madison would need significantly more time and care to manage hers. The three kids obediently moved to the front door again to grab their belongings then passed through the kitchen to go downstairs to their rooms.
"Great kids, Lynn. I love 'em!" Richard said when the kids were out of sight.
Lynn put the tea down on the table, and the two of them poured and prepared their own cups while they talked.
"Thanks, Richard. Just, please, don't go and spoil them so horribly this time!" Lynn replied.
"Me? Not a chance!"
Lynn rolled her eyes, but stayed quiet.
"Come on, you know I don't spoil the kids!" Richard was doing his best to look innocent, but Lynn wasn't fooled for a moment.
"Yes, spoil the kids! You can't help yourself, I know, but it makes us feel horrible how you dote on them so!"
"Now, come on, buying each of them an iPod for Christmas is nothing special." Richard grinned impishly.
"It wasn't just the iPod's, Richard! You bought them all matching laptops to go with them..."
Richard shrugged. "They need to connect to iTunes as well."
"... with a Canada-wide roaming data plan connected ..."
"Laptops are mobile! Internet connections should be too!"
"... and then a separate iPhone to go with it all?"
"It's annoying listening to music or using an App when the phone rings! Having both allows them to multi-task, that's all!"
Lynn threw her hands in the air and scowled. "Richard! The drum set for Jared, the electric guitar for Alex and the synthesized piano for Madison it was a little much and you know it, not to mention the noise you created for us in the house, thanks very much. Eddie and I are afraid to buy them anything at all because you already give them so much!"
Richard waved his hands in defence. "I admit the instruments were simply part of a phase I was going through."
Lynn spoke from inside her mug as she sipped tea, her green eyes smiling at Richard. "Watching too much reality TV shows at the time?"
Richard grinned. "Something like that," he admitted. "Bottom line though is they're all just innocent little gifts, Lynn. You know, to be honest, I am surprised that you and Eddie don't do more for yourselves. You do own fifty percent shares in the company, you know. Frankly I'm surprised Eddie is still working at all – he should be retiring!"
Lynn smiled. "He says he's too young to retire fully. Thanks to you, and the gold mine, we've been richly blessed and we are looking at ways to use that money properly."
"I'd just be happy to see you use your money at all. I'd expected you to get a bigger house, at least, not to say there is anything wrong with this one of course."
Lynn shrugged. "This works because of how close we are to the schools for the kids. Besides, we live vicariously through you, Richard!"
Richard sipped his tea and looked out the porch screen door. "I just have ... healthy spending habits," he conceded. "But I still maintain that I do not spoil the kids."
On cue, all three kids came bounding up the stairs, cheering and yelling for Richard to tell them what gifts he had brought for them. Richard sighed and looked at Lynn, who simply shook her head and glared as if to say, 'I told you so.'
And just as predictably, Uncle Richard did indeed have a present for them all.
"I found the perfect gift for you all while I was visiting in Brazil last month!" Richard's eyes lit up the room as his own excitement mounted. "A section of the mine turned out to have some old architecture buried there, so we have some archaeologists with us now. Our team found these at a dig site, and they gave them to me. Well, there were three of them, and so I thought it would be perfect that each of you rascals should get them!"
Richard got up from the table and grabbed a leather rucksack from the other baggage he had in the hallway. He turned to the three expectant kids and knelt down to be on their level. He had one hand thrust into the bag, and started the description of his gift before Lynn could intervene.
"Now, what I have here for you is something very special. Now I must warn you, they are delicate. That means they are breakable. And they are also very, very old."
All the kids sighed. This meant that whatever they were, they weren't toys and would be something that their mom would store away in a cabinet somewhere where everyone was allowed to look at them, but never allowed to touch.
"However," Richard announced, seeing their faces sink, "they are made partly of gold!"
This lifted their hearts a little – gold was always nice! Uncle Richard had brought some small gold shavings back for them all to look at, and they were incredibly pretty. They had reminded the kids of the shavings they had seen in the Thomas and the Magic Railroad movie.
"And they are also made of a crystal mineral that no one has seen before!" Richard enjoyed the drama that always built up to the unveiling of a present. The kids used to whine and moan, but they had grown used to his way of gift giving, and now stood patiently and expectantly like little soldiers, waiting for their drill sergeant to dismiss them.
"And they sparkle very brilliantly! You should have seen these little babies when we found them – covered in dirt and grime! We had some of our guy's wash them down, and now they practically come alive in the light! I hope you like them!"
He finished this last statement by producing a small bundle of tissue paper, which he handed to Alex. He produced a second and a third bundle, handing one each to Jared and Madison. The trio tore into the tissue, the excitement of opening the gifts consuming them, and soon the floor was littered with bits of paper. Shortly, three small sparkling treasures sat in their hands, and all three of the kids exclaimed their joy with 'oooh's' and 'aaah's'.
Each had a miniature dragon, standing in various poses. They all had a yellow underbelly, which was the main concentration of gold. The tops of each were a different color, Alex's a deep forest green, Jared's a fiery red, and Madison's was beautiful dark lavender. They could not even guess what the backsides were made of, except that it was some type of mineral rock, or crystal, or maybe even a gemstone. And did they ever sparkle! It seemed that each of the small dragons had a way of catching light and making it reflect back twice as bright as before!
The kids all turned their respective gift over and over, staring into the dazzling array of colors. Alex's green dragon was curled around a rock, seeming to be resting, but the eyes were open wide and alert. Jared's red was reared up on its hind legs and kicking the front two, much like a horse and knight in battle. Madison's light purple was simply standing on all fours, looking regal, the wings slightly unfurled. All of the dragon's eyes were a contrasting color to their bodies: the green dragon had orange eyes, the red dragon had light blue, and the lavender's eyes were a shiny yellow.
And the wings! Each had a resplendent pair of wings! They were paper thin, yet they were so hard! The colours all shimmered magically when the figurine was moved around in the light.
Each of the kids gave Uncle Richard a big hug and thanked him for the gifts. They then walked in a solemn procession, carrying their prize before them like royal jewellery. Richard smiled and began cleaning up the discarded tissue paper. He stood to walk to the garbage under the sink, but was stopped short by a furious looking mother.
"What on God's green earth ever possessed you to give the kids golden statues? Those relics were found in some ancient dig in the middle of nowhere, and should probably be overseen by the curator of a museum! Not to mention some unknown ancient curse you could have just cast over the kids by stealing these things from an unknown tomb and then giving it to them! What were you thinking? This isn't some little gift you gave them! The amount of gold and gemstone inlaid in those things is enough to pay for all of their education until the end of college! What were you thinking?"
Richard stumbled with his words, not having even thought of a single possible retaliation. He was saved from needing to reply by the front door bursting open, and Eddie yelling at the top of his lungs, "Honey, I'm home!"
The thunder of children pounding their feet and yelling joyous greetings echoed around the house. All three of the kids dove into their father in much the same way as they had with Uncle Richard. They rolled, twisted and laughed together until Dad gasped for breath and begged for the kids to stop. Richard handed the scraps of tissue to Lynn and feebly excused himself, making his way to the front door and out of harm's way. Lynn tossed the paper into the recycling bin and followed him into the front hall.
"Richard, great to see you!" Eddie cried from under a jumble of arms and legs and giggling bodies. Richard could just make out the spiky brown hair that was his friend in the throng. Eddie was about the same athletic build and height as Richard was, if only a little leaner. Eddie's hand reached out from in between kids to shake Richards hand in greeting. "How are you doing?"
"I'm excellent, Eddie!"
"Oh yes, excellent, aren't we?" Lynn added sarcastically.
Eddie widened his hazel eyes, exaggerating his expression. "Hi honey. So what did you get them this time, Rich?"
"You will never guess what your friend brought for the kids as a gift!" Hands on her hips, Lynn looked like she could stop a rampaging bull.
Eddie's grin grew larger as he looked to his friend's bearded face. "Whatever it is, it must be a fantastic gift! I haven't seen Lynn turn that sour since you bought all the kids the iPods at Christmas!"
Lynn was obviously upset, but she held it in.
The kids all started babbling about their gifts. Eddie caught snippets of information, something about gold, and green and red and purple colors, and claws and wings. By the jumbled description he assumed they had a pet, or perhaps three. They were talking about how the eyes were different colors, and that you could see your own reflection in them. By the time the descriptions had subsided, Lynn had left the room and was back in the kitchen cleaning up, the kids all making their way to their rooms to retrieve their new stone pets. Richard was suspiciously staying away from the kitchen. His only hope was to get Eddie on his side, and that would allow the venting steam from Lynn to cool somewhat, or at the very least be transferred to Eddie instead.
The children brought their new treasures upstairs and showed them off. After examining them for only a minute or two, the dragons were returned to their special perches in the kid's rooms: Alex had his facing the sun on his windowsill, where the light could shine off of it, while the other two were on bookshelves.
Eddie agreed with Lynn that the gifts were simply too expensive to accept, but Richard answered honestly that he had never had them appraised, so as far as he was concerned they had no appreciable value. Eddie argued that the term priceless could apply, to which Richard agreed.
"That just means they have no listed price, therefore there is no monetary value. See? They're free!"
Eddie begrudgingly accepted, and Lynn only did so once Richard produced paperwork showing proper authority, claim, and transfer of ownership from the Brazilian Government, where the statues had been found.
Once the dragons were safe on their perches, everyone got ready for dinner. It was a custom with the friends to go out for dinner when Richard was in town, and tonight they had decided to go for BBQ Chicken.
Dinner went by with the usual conversation of where Uncle Richard had been, what he had been doing, and any exciting adventures he had. He always had a way of describing something as a heroic event, even though in reality he was walking across the street to buy a drink. He talked about travel, work and more travel. The kids listened, and were always fascinated by the talk of the caves and mines in Brazil.
When they arrived home everyone was so full there were no complaints at going straight to bed. Richard was especially tired from the long flight that day. He went to the spare room after hugging the kid's goodnight and promptly went to sleep.
After the kids were ready for bed, Mom and Dad appeared on cue to say goodnight and read a story. The children's rooms were situated in such a way that they all shared a bathroom, with Jared's room in the northwest corner of the basement making it central to the other two; Alex's room was the southwest corner of the basement, and Madison's took up a single section along the north wall. Jared's room was where everyone always met every night before bedtime for stories or songs, or sometimes simple conversation. It was Madison's turn to pick the story, and her choice was a short story from the Dragon Tales series. It had been some time since any of them had watched the cartoon on TV, although because of their most recent gifts she thought it was appropriate.
The story finished, they all went to their own respective rooms. There was bright moonlight shinning through the window, dazzling brightly as the dragon hide caught the moon's rays. They all always kept the bedroom and bathroom doors slightly ajar, so that the three of them could speak to each other once Mom and Dad had gone upstairs.
"They are really pretty, aren't they?" Madison called out in the darkness.
"Yup," Alex replied sleepily.
"I like my dragon the best," Jared said.
"Mine is the prettiest!" Madison replied.
"Mine is the strongest!" Jared cried out. There was silence for a moment. "Alex, what about you? What is yours?"
Excerpted from SHARD by Andreas Zimmermann Copyright © 2012 by Andreas Zimmermann. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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