Printed from WriteWords -

Toko`s Dragon

by  Steerpike`s sister

Posted: Friday, October 13, 2006
Word Count: 3639
Summary: I can't seem to get it to end!! I've been trying for ages and the story just seems to go on and on... I was hoping for a nice neat ending at 2K words, but no. What do you think of this?

Toko’s Dragon

Toko’s grandfather was tall and silent and never touched him. This was because he didn’t like children, he preferred books and travelling. So, even though his house wasn’t far from Toko’s, they didn’t often see each other.
Long ago, Toko’s grandfather had been an explorer, and gone on expeditions across the world to distant places. Now he lived in a tall, tidy old house, full of maps, that smelled of old wood and paper. A quiet house, where clocks ticked time slowly along, and thoughts piled up in dark corners like dead leaves. All the books were in the proper order, and it was full of expensive, labelled things in cabinets. “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” Toko’s grandfather used to say.
In summer, Toko’s grandfather had a bad fall. He went into a special home for people who couldn’t help themselves.
“Shall we go and see Grandpa?” said Mum, and Toko nodded, though he didn’t really want to. But when they went to see him in the special home, he looked as if he was not in his place. All his tallness was folded down into a chair and a tartan blanket and he looked fragile and shrunken as a dried-up river. Everything was bright and smelled of being clean and covered up. Old people stared at the television. Time didn’t tick slowly past here, it hurried by, in the busy footsteps of the nurses. There were no dark corners for thoughts to pile in softly. Toko sat on his hands, and tried not to stare, and tried to see everything in this strange, frightening, busy, bright place.
Toko’s grandfather wouldn’t stay sitting down. He kept getting up, and shuffling to the bedside table, and emptying out the bowl of pot-pourri. He opened and closed drawers with shaking hands. He picked things up and put them down again.
“I’ve lost it,” he kept saying. “I’ve lost it. I can’t find it again.” His voice was anxious and small.
“I want to go home,” he said to Toko’s mum and Toko’s dad. “I want to go home.” Everyone looked embarrassed and sorry, but no one took him home.

That night, Toko was brushing his teeth when he heard the grzzz, grzzz against the window pane. “Stupid fly,” he said, reaching up to open the window; but it wasn’t a fly. He stared at it, clutching his toothbrush in his hand, toothpaste dribbling down his chin. It was tiny and golden and furious, but it wasn’t a wasp, or a bee, either. It was a dragon.
It was a dragon the size of a bumblebee, with a curling body, all tail, flicking angrily as it moved up the glass, wings beating so fast they were barely a blur. Grzzz, grzzz, it went, a growly, buzzy noise. It gleamed like a drop of oil. Tiny claws scrabbled the glass. Its eyes boiled like suns.
Very, very carefully, Toko put down his toothbrush, and reached out for the mug. He put his other hand out and guided the angry little dragon down the window, until it landed on the sill. Then he slammed the tooth mug over it.
He stood there, staring at the mug, grzzz, grzzz rattling around in it, until it was finally silent. He was scared to lift up the mug again in case he was wrong, and it wasn’t really a dragon, or in case he was right and it was really a dragon. In the end, he ran to his room and got the jewelbox, the one where he kept his special stone and the secret feathers. The jewelbox was a special wooden box with a lid of shiny stones, that his Mum had bought on holiday and passed on to Toko when the embroidery started looking shabby and worn. He tipped the stone and the feathers out onto his bed just anyhow, and ran back into the bathroom. Very carefully, he lifted the edge of the mug. The little dragon crouched on the windowsill, staring at him with impossible golden eyes. The dregs of water in the mug had weighed down its wings, and it could not fly. Its wings were webbed like the feet of ducks, it had a little goat-like beard that was a shimmering emerald green and long feet like a hare’s. It was like lots of different animals all put together. He scooped it into the jewelbox. It tried to blast flame at him, but it was too wet, and all that came out was a little blue spark, like the one from the gas stove. He closed the lid almost all the way, but not completely, so the dragon would be able to breathe.
A dragon, he thought, over and over again. A dragon, a real dragon. “A dragon,” he whispered, needing to say it aloud to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, but terrified his Mum would hear him, even though he knew she was downstairs watching TV. He couldn’t believe something this incredible could be his secret. But nobody came charging upstairs demanding that he hand it over. No policeman came knocking for him. And after a while, the angry little noise began again; grzzz, grzzz, as the dragon thumped against the insides of the box. Toko stared at the box as if it was alive.
“Where did you come from?” he whispered.

All that autumn, Toko looked at his atlas, trying to think where the dragon could have come from. He was sure it came from somewhere hot, because it was so hot inside, itself. A sweaty rainforest? Maybe it sucked up nectar from monstrous flowers that bloomed only once every hundred years. Or maybe it came from a dry, stony country, and came out like a lizard to bask in the heat of the day, scampering after insects in the dusk and before dawn.
Toko fed the dragon on bits left over from dinner, pieces of cheese stolen from the fridge, scraps of spaghetti. The dragon had teeth no bigger than grains of salt. It tore at things sideways, like a dog chomping a bone. But it always watched him sideways, too. And whenever he opened the jewelbox just a bit too far, it shot out of the box and flew straight to the window, grzzz, grzzz, against the glass. The first time, the window was open, and Toko flung himself across the room, in terror as the dragon fumbled across the glass, and wrenched the window shut. From then on, he made sure the window was always shut. He hoped one day the dragon would crawl out onto his arm, look up at him, let him look behind the anger in the golden eyes, trust him. “You could be my friend,” he told the dragon. “We could be friends, you and me.” But the dragon didn’t seem to care.
“You’re getting just like your grandfather,” said his mother. “So solemn and quiet. Always staring at your atlas.”
He found himself dreaming about the golden eyes, dreaming that they loomed larger and larger, hotter and hotter, like terrible suns over a desert. One night, he dreamed the suns were turning into lights on police-cars, coming to get him, their sirens beeping instead of wailing.
He opened his eyes sleepily. The jewelbox was in flames on his desk. His schoolbooks, underneath, were curling up and crinkling. The smoke alarm was beeping, shrieking. He remembered the fire safety lesson they’d had at school. He jumped out of bed, grabbed his heavy blanket, and threw it onto the fire. He pushed it down. As he smothered the flames, he heard his mother’s voice, high and frightened. “Toko! Toko!” The door was pushed open, and his mother blundered in, panic and tiredness making her face suddenly look as old as his grandfather’s. But Toko was already looking around for the dragon. It had burned down the box and escaped. There it was, on the light-shade, clinging to the rim, seeming just like a fly to anyone who wasn’t looking properly.

As a punishment for playing with matches, Toko had to go straight to his room after school for the whole next week. No computer, no TV, dinner on a tray and no pudding. Outside his window, he could see other boys playing football as the leaves changed to fizzy, fiery colours, the Christmas lights going up, people trying out their new gloves and boots. Toko spent the week trying to catch the dragon, with a net he’d made out of a plastic bag and a coat-hanger. He had found the perfect new home for it. A money box, with a slit in the top, so the dragon could breathe, and he could poke food inside. It even had a glass front, so he could look in at it. All the dragons he’d read about liked precious things to lie on, so he got some old jewellery of his mother’s, and put it inside the box. The dragon always kept just out of reach, though, its golden eyes seeming to mock him. It swooped on spiders and ate them. It got fat and smug-looking. Toko stood on his bed and jumped up with the net, trying to get the dragon. The dragon buzzed furiously away, blue flames quivering from its nostrils. He was scared that he might hurt it if he tried too hard to catch it.
“Why do you keep flying away?” he said angrily.
Finally he managed to knock it down, and it fell onto the bed. It blew fire from its nostrils, and the pillow case smelled of burning. He picked it up – it was like picking up a candle flame – and dropped it into the money box. He hoped it would like its special new home. But instead it just lay there, looking at him, with sad, terrible eyes. Maybe, he thought, the dragon was homesick, for more jewels and gold. Dragons were greedy, everyone said that.
“You could try to like it,” he said furiously. “I could look after you. You’ll never have to catch food again.”
But inside, he knew that the dragon just wanted to fly away, out of the room, out of the house, out into the huge sky, somewhere he couldn’t follow it. That made him angry and sad. It didn’t seem fair that it wouldn’t be his friend when he was trying so hard to help it.
“You wouldn’t be safe outside,” he told it. “A bird might eat you. Or a fox. Besides. you’re too beautiful. And too terrible. If I let you go, I might never see you again.”

After he was allowed out of his room again, they went to see Grandfather. Toko was getting used to the smell and to the bright cheerfulness in the place, but he still didn’t feel comfortable there. There were too many old people with lost, confused eyes, smelling of being cleaned up and covered over. Some were different old people from the time he had been there last.
Grandfather moved around in his dressing gown, like a tree grown over with grey moss, shaking and stooping. He went to the window and leaned against it, moved his fingers up and down the cold sunlight outside, the crumpled, yellow nails tap-tapping gently against the chilly glass as his hand shook. Toko thought of the dragon, grzzz, grzzz against the window pane.
One day, his mother told him that his grandfather wasn’t getting any better.
“It’s just a matter of time now,” she said sadly.
It was all wrong, Mum being sad. It made Toko worry.
I wonder if Grandfather is really going to die, he thought. I’ve never known anyone die before. I wonder will it make me different, my grandfather being dead? Will I feel different?

Soon, it was time to get ready for Christmas. There was a big, real tree in the sitting room. Toko helped tie tinsel and gingerbread to it, and helped wrap up presents in gold and silver paper. He hung big gleaming baubles on the tree, like jewels. Everything smelled special and exciting, as if a big adventure was going to start. And one of his aunts came round to visit with a huge tin of shiny-wrapped chocolates, almost big enough for him to climb into.
Toko saved the metallic wrappers from the tin of chocolates for the dragon. He rolled them into balls so they looked like jewels and put them through the slit of the money box. But the dragon just blinked its big golden eyes as if it was bored.
“Maybe if you saw the tree you’d be excited, too,” said Toko. “You can’t smell the tree all the way up here.”
So on Christmas Eve, late, after his Mum had gone to sleep, Toko went downstairs with the dragon in its box, in the pocket of his dressing-gown. He lifted up the box and showed the dragon the tree.
The dragon got really excited. It sat up and blew flame. It went grzzz, grzzz, and clawed at the glass.
“I knew you’d like it!” said Toko happily. He opened the lid of the moneybox a little bit so the dragon could smell the tree and the chocolate and the presents. But he opened it a bit too far. The dragon whisked out of the money box and darted into the air.
“Come back!” shouted Toko, forgetting not to wake his Mum. But the dragon was flying all around the tree, diving at the baubles as if it wanted to eat them. Spinning past the Christmas cards, it sent out a jet of flame, and the Christmas cards caught light. The room filled up with smoke.
“Mum!” shouted Toko. “Mum!” He tried to catch the dragon, but it slipped out of his reach. The smoke was making him cough and his eyes water. Toko ran to the window and pushed it open so he could breathe. And there went the dragon – whisk, past his fingers, and out into the cold Christmas air.

On Christmas Day, Grandfather was supposed to come and see them, but he didn’t. He wasn’t well enough. They had to go and see him in the special home instead.
“If I could find anyone to look after you, on Christmas Day,” scolded Toko’s mum, as she put him into the car, “I’d leave you at home! I don’t understand why you keep playing with matches. It’s so dangerous!”
“It wasn’t me, it was the dragon!” shouted Toko. He was so unhappy that he didn’t care what he said. Anyway, it wasn’t his secret any more. He’d lost it. It was gone.
But his mother didn’t believe him, and she only got more angry because she thought he was lying. Toko sat miserably in the car, holding the empty money box. It was so cold out there. It was snowing. The dragon might freeze, he thought. I’ll never find it again.

Toko’s grandfather wasn’t moving around any more, he was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He looked small and flat, as if he had been unplugged, or put away. His face was bright, thin, feverish.
“I can’t find it,” he cried. He reached out, his hands wavered like insects, looking for something. Toko thought he was reaching for the drawer in his bedside table.
“Mum, I think he wants the drawer open,” he said.
“He’s wandering,” said Mum. “I’ll go and get the nurse. Toko, stay here.”
She means his mind is wandering, thought Toko, as she went, not him, really. He thought of all the maps in his grandfather’s tall, neat, shadowy house. Maybe his mind was wandering through all the strange countries where he had journeyed when he was younger.
Even though he was so unhappy about the dragon, he still felt sorry for his grandfather. Everything was so cold and white in the room – the screens, the single bed with its cool sheets, the plastic bottles of tablets. He wanted to do something to help him.
“Are you trying to open the drawer, Grandfather?” he asked, nervously, his voice sticking to his throat as if it was too shy to come out. And when his grandfather smiled, he reached out and pulled open the drawer.
Inside was a beautiful china box, painted with pink and gold flowers. It was an odd shape. It had a sliding glass front, that could be lifted up and put down again, or propped open with a matchsticl. Inside, there was a little pile of gold earrings and expensive-looking rings. Some of them had melted into a lump. And there was a familiar smell. Burning.
Toko went hot and cold. It was a box for a dragon. His grandfather had a dragon! But where was it now?
“Grandfather!” He exclaimed. “Was it a dragon that you lost?”
His grandfather nodded.
“Yes,” he said weakly. “A beautiful little dragon. Can you see it?”
Toko shook his head. “It’s gone, Grandfather.”
Grrzz, grrzz, came a little sound, and something tapping at the window. Toko looked up.
“Look!” he whispered. There, outside, the little dragon was playing in the air, looping round and round, wriggling between the snowflakes, twisting round and round as its wings beat quickly. It looked as if it was showing off.
His grandfather struggled to sit up.
“That’s my dragon!” he exclaimed.
“That’s my dragon!” said Toko. He looked at the dragon and looked at his grandfather, and laughed. The dragon looked so happy, and so did his grandfather, even though his face was very pale and feverish.
“It looks happy out there,” Toko said. “I think it likes the cold!”
“Yes,” said his grandfather, and he sounded almost like himself again. “The place it came from is often cold, because it’s in the mountains.”
“Shall I try and catch it?” asked Toko doubtfully. He suddenly didn’t really want to. The dragon looked so much more beautiful out there, flying in the winter sunlight, than it did trapped in a box.
But his grandfather shook his head. “No,” he said. “A place for everything, and everything in its place. I think the dragon wants to get back to its own place, its home. Look how happy it is!”
Before Toko could say anything, the door opened and the nurse and Toko’s mother came bustling in.
“Good heavens,” said his mother, pointing to the window, “look, a bumblebee, at this time of year!”
Toko and his grandfather exchanged a glance, and Toko could hardly stop himself from laughing.
The little dragon did a last loop and then shot away, high into the sky.

Tomorrow, thought Toko, as they drove home in the car, I’ll go and see Grandfather again, and I’ll find out all about the dragon, and where the mountains it came from were, and how to get there …
But the next day there was a call from the hospital. Grandfather had died in the night.
Toko’s mum didn’t understand why he was so upset.
“I didn’t know you felt so close to him, Toko,” she said, puzzled. “I didn’t know at all.”

That spring, Toko sat in his room, looking at his atlas. There were so many mountain ranges in the world. How would he ever find out which one the dragon had come from?
“Toko, are you ready?” called his mother? “It’s time to go!”
Their house was sold. They were moving into his grandfather’s tall, quiet house, full of shadows and books and maps. All their things were packed up in boxes and already the house didn’t feel like their place any more.
“Coming!” called Toko. He ran down the stairs and out into the fresh spring day. In the car, he stared out of the window, wondering if he would ever see the little dragon again. Had it managed to get home? He hoped it had.

When they got there, Toko stood in the hall, not liking to touch anything. He felt shy and anxious. All around were shelves and shelves of books, cabinets of strange things: coral, jade carvings, old coins, a dried seahorse…
“Never mind, Toko,” his mum said, “it’ll soon feel like home.” But he couldn’t imagine it ever feeling like his home. It still felt like Grandfather’s house.
Toko stared at the old, yellow maps that hung on the walls. There were photographs too, in frames: black and white photographs. Many were of his grandfather, tall and unsmiling, with foreign people in strange robes and clothes. One picture in particular looked a little strange. A huge mountain with a snowy peak filled the background. His grandfather was standing in a grove of trees that looked like pine trees, but were hung with heavy fruit like plums. He was wearing a big ring.
Toko looked a little closer. It was not a ring. It was the little dragon, sitting on his grandfather’s finger.
Toko’s heart beat faster.
It’s a clue! he thought excitedly. It’s a clue to where the dragon came from. He reached up and took the picture carefully from the wall. On the back of it, in his grandfather’s swirling old-fashioned handwriting, it said: View of the Mountain of Spirits.
Toko looked at the trees again. The fruit was huge. Could that be why the dragon had been so excited to see the Christmas tree? he wondered. Maybe the baubles looked like the fruit he was used to.
“Toko! Come and choose your bedroom!” called his mum.
Toko smiled as he put the picture back. This was his home, now, his proper place. There was plenty of time to explore, to read his grandfather’s books and study his maps and photographs. He would be able to work out where the dragon had come from… And one day, he would go and find it!