Today’s 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Celebrate Good Times – You received some wonderful, improbable, hoped-for good news. How do you celebrate?
Since yesterday’s post was all about death, today’s will be all about life! Also, I knew I wanted the Professor to be, well, a professor, but I couldn’t get passed call him Professor X… Feel free to imagine him in a wheel chair.
Professor Xavier’s fingers trembled as he wiped the already soaked handkerchief over his forehead. He wrung it out as best he could while knowing he’d be ruining it again in a few minutes. His wife was toiling away inside the birthing room – he should be with her, damn it! Cheering her on while she brought forth new life and secured the future of the next generation. He jumped when the door to the birthing room swung open.
Roslyn popped her head out long enough to lower her mask and announce, “It’s twins, Professor!”
“Twins?” He once again dabbed his forehead as the grin that worry had kept at bay finally unfurled. Roslyn was gone for less than a minute when she popped back out.
The door to the birthing room hadn’t even finished closing when she was back. Her mask was hanging entirely off her ears at this point.
“Don’t tell me, Roslyn,” the Professor chuckled, “Quadruplets?”
“No, sir. We had a whole bunch pop out all at once. Looks like we’ve got a full baker’s dozen! Lucky number thirteen!”
Professor Xavier grabbed his heart. Roslyn had to dart forward to catch him before he fainted. She laughed as she escorted him into the birthing room and over to the table where thirteen babies lay over a warm blanket. Anita, the other nurse, was cleaning them off. She tamped her foot on the bellows that stoked the fire on the other side of the table. The Professor put away his handkerchief; sweat was pouring off everyone here.
“Marie,” Professor Xavier croaked. He reached for his wife as she wiped the residue from her hands. The growing bags under her eyes had doubled but she smiled just as proudly as her husband. “Thirteen?”
“All the eggs hatched? It’s a miracle.”
Professor Xaiver inspected the little dragons. Their scales were as small as grains of sand. Their eyes were closed as they writhed in the blanket for warmth. Each time the fire flickered, they snapped their tiny jaws that were barely wide enough to bite the Professor’s thumb. No signs of their future dagger teeth could be seen in their pale gums.
Anita was cleaning the shell from the last one. It was smaller than the rest. It’s brothers and sisters at least had stumps where their wings would one day come it. Bony ribs poked out of this one. It tilted its head toward the nurses but didn’t otherwise react as they tried to invigorate it with rubs from the wool blanket.
“Let me see it,” the Professor ordered. He took the runt between experienced hands. “I didn’t become chair of the Cryptoherptology Department without learning a few tricks.”
He opened his mouth wide and blew hot breath along the hatchling as he carried it to the corner where its mother slept. The birthing room, being a birthing room, was typically reserved for Dr. Marie to aid her decidedly warm blooded patients–unicorn, kelpie, and the like. Dragons were expected to use the hatching room situated high up on the mountain face where there were plenty of caves for the mother to crawl in and rest after her ordeal. When Tiamat unexpectedly deposited her brood into one of the birthing room’s larger supply cabinets, it took the entire Department to coordinate efforts that would insure the eggs’ survival. Efforts that included a state-of-the-art Von Brandt Incubating Furnace that the Professor hoped they’d be able to move to the hatching room once it was no longer needed here. Tiamat and Abzu were one of the last mating pairs of Greater Freshwater Sea dragons. No expense would be spared to insure the survival of their offspring, but the Professor knew there was only one medicine for a runty dragon, no matter the breed.
“Congratulations,” Professor Xavier said. He held the littlest hatchling up until it was nearly inside its mothers nostril. Tiamat’s seafoam scales glittered from the firelight. The hatchling didn’t even flinch as it was held away from the Professor’s warm body. It didn’t react as Tiamat flared her nostril. This was a serious case indeed.
The dragon opened one golden eye. She glanced down at her human colleague before nudging her offspring away. With a mighty yawn, she unrolled her long, serpentine body, stretched her wings until they compressed against the far-too-low ceiling, and dragged sharp, webbed claws over the linoleum. Everyone cringed at the squealing until she settled down. The Professor sighed, knowing the damage to the floor would come out of his paycheck. Tiamat flicked one cord-like whisker up to her human’s forehead so she could think at him.
What is this, Xavier?
“It’s your child.”
This is no child of mine. Where are its wings? Where are its scales? This looks like the fish Apsu has brought me to feed on,
“Trust me,” Marie said as she stepped over the claw marks and looked up at the dragon. Though she couldn’t hear Tiamat’s thoughts as her husband could, she’d picked up a few tricks in her years of marriage to the cryptoherptologist. Enough to guess with almost complete certainly what the dragon was saying to him. “I’ve spent a good week looking after your eggs, and I just spent ten long hours making sure they hatched without a scratch on their tiny scales. This one’s yours.”
I do not want it.
Tiamat turned away and folded her wings over her back as if to shield herself from the disappointment.
“You have to warm it with your fire or it will never survive,” Professor Xavier insisted. He thunked his stubborn dragon between her wing blades until his wife pulled away his hand. She shook her head. The dragon, however improperly she was behaving, was still recovering.
“We need to get this one fire–not furnace fire. It’ll need good, nourishing dragon fire or it doesn’t stand a chance of survival.”
“Apsu’s outside. Take it to him.”
Professor Xavier cringed. “Yes, my dearest, I would but… Dragon fathers are notoriously… rough with their little ones…”
“Well, you can either take the chance that it’ll die with Apsu, or you can leave it here and let it die with Tiamat.”
“As blunt as ever, my turtle dove,” the Professor sighed. He wrapped the runt in a towel and carried it down the hall. It didn’t seem to mind the drop in temperature and he had to wonder if it could even sense the cold approaching.
Outside, Apsu had curled himself around a massive fire. He rested his head on the lower portion of his long torso in order to belch more fuel into the fire whenever it faltered. The snow around him had melted, leaving pools of water that were certainly threatening the life of his heat source. Winter was the absolutely worst time for laying eggs. The Professor had tried to explain that to the couple in the springtime. The birds and the bees were not for dragons. And as a first time father, Apsu was unlikely to listen to the Professor’s instructions on how best to warm his littlest one without, well, eating it.
“Apsu, I have little time to explain,” the Professor shouted up to the dragon. He lowered his head and sniffed at the still bundle in his human’s arms.
My little one?
“Yes. It’s weak. Tiamat has rejected it. It needs your fire or it won’t survive.”
My fire? The dancing firelight ignited the razory ridge along the dragon’s back but could not reach his silver irises. The Professor didn’t know how to interrupt the inexplicable way they now glowed as bright as the North Star.
“Let it rest in your mouth and use your tongue as a blanket. Then blow out fire to warm it.”
Apsu opened his mouth and allowed the Professor to lower the hatchling into it’s father’s cavernous mouth. He didn’t worry about cutting himself on his dragon’s sharp teeth. He’d been in Apsu’s mouth a hundred times before while chastising him for neglecting dental hygiene. This was the first trip he truly feared would end with death.
“Now be careful. It’s weak and– Apsu, no!”
The great dragon unfurled his wings. With legs more powerful than a locomotive, he thrust himself upward and soared into the gloomy winter sky. The fire erupted before snuffing out. Professor Xavier shrieked after him, frantically pulling at his hair, as the dragon flew in figure eights over the cryptovetrinary hospital. Apsu’s cheerful voice echoing in his mind did not ease his panic.
I’m a father! Xavier, I’m a father!
Apsu roared and unleashed a fireball twice his length and three times his height. The snow that hadn’t yet melted liquified in seconds. The Professor plodded through the recently formed pond before giving up. Apsu was a father, and in a few seconds he’d be a cannibal. Professor Xavier ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. With the dragon’s fire nearly spent, he plummet to the earth. The water swirled into a mini-waterspout as the dragon landed.
I must decide on a name. That’s the father’s job. What do you think of Fafnir? I’ve always been partial it.
“Fafnir is… nice… I suppose.” The Professor waited for Apsu to rest his head on the ground before launching for his dragon’s teeth. The dragon wiggled his head at the unwelcome touch.
Stop. You brushed my teeth yesterday.
Professor Xavier shoved his arms between the dragon’s exposed teeth and attempted to pry his mouth open. Saving the hatchling’s life might have been moot at this point, but at least he could save its body. Apsu snapped his mouth open and pushed his human back with his tongue. Professor Xavier jumped out of the puddle and would have run into the mouth, had he not noticed the pale form wriggling out near Apsu’s molar.
Yes, little Fafnir. You show him how clean Daddy’s teeth are.
“It–It’s alive!” Before the Professor could rescue the hatchling, Apsu lifted Fafnir up with the tip of his tail. The little dragon yawned, stretched and pawed its claws as its mother had done and curled up in a tight ball. Apsu had to use his claws to keep it from tumbling into the pond.
“Well, I’m glad Fafnir is doing better,” the Professor sighed. “And if you’re up to it, I can bring the others out here to meet you. It might be better to keep them with you until Tiamat comes around.”
“Yes. You’ll have to come up with twelve more names.”
Twelve? Apsu counted on his free claws. Twelve… plus one… Thirteen little ones? I have thirteen!
Apsu raised his head back and spewed a fountain of fire so hot his human knew he’d be paying for more than a few melted windows.
I strongly suspect this story came about because for whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about Jeremy Thatcher the Dragon Hatcher a lot recently. Anyone read that book? I remember, we “read” it in fourth(ish) grade. By “read”, I mean the librarian played the audiotape and we students looked at the book. I remember getting slightly frustrated because I could read faster than the audio book dude was pacing the story and wanted to read ahead. I also remember how well he did the hissing voice of Tiamat, the story’s dragon.