I fell into the couch, tired from driving all day. I heard Athena upstairs coming out of the shower, and though I thought about going upstairs to surprise her, my body wouldn’t listen. Somehow, even my arms felt exhausted from the drive, and I could barely keep my eyes open.
The bathroom door opened upstairs, echoing down the staircase as Athena came out, humming a melody I couldn’t place. The sound of her bare feet across the floor upstairs made my heart flutter, and a smile spread across my face. She would get dressed, then come downstairs for some coffee.
Sure enough, the sound of her now padded steps started down the stairs. I waited until she was just at the bottom, turning into the kitchen before I spoke.
“Hey, baby,” I said from the couch.
“Sweet Fern! Curtis! You’re home!” she squealed as she came around the corner leaping over the arm of the couch onto me. Her lips were soft and warm as the smell of her hibiscus shampoo washed over me. She pulled away, staring at me with her emerald eyes for a moment. “I didn’t think you’d be home until tomorrow.”
“I didn’t think I’d be home either,” I said, wrapping my arms around her as she snuggled her head into my chest. “I drove an extra two hours every day to get here sooner.”
“You should have told me! I would have made sure that everything was set up for you,” she replied.
“You spoil me,” I chuckled, “you should probably stop that before my ego gets too big.”
“It’s already too big,” she shot back, squeezing me, “I’m just helping you maintain it.”
“Well, you’re doing a good job of it,” I said before I kissed the top of her head.
“I was going to get a cup of coffee, and go smoke if you wanted to come with me,” she said, looking up at me as her chin dug into my sternum.
“Alright,” I said. I couldn’t ever deny her what she wanted when she looked at me like that. (Her chin also hurt like hell when she rested it there, but I wouldn’t ever tell her.)
“Yay!” she squealed again as she pushed herself up and ran to the kitchen.
I pulled myself to a seated position as all the change in my pockets fell into the cushions.
“Shit,” I muttered. “I’ll get it later.”
I moved for the kitchen as an odd scratching sound emanating from beneath the couch caught my attention.
“Athena?” I said.
“Yeah?” she replied.
“I think we have another mouse in here,” I said as I crouched next to the couch.
“What do you-” Athena said as she came around the corner, stopping when I held my finger to my lips. The scratching moved from the far end of the couch to the center where I could hear the coins that had fallen in tinkling ever so softly. “What is that?”
“It sounds like the mice are starting a bank,” I joked as I gripped the bottom of the couch. “You ready?”
“Ready for what?” she whispered, taking a step back. “I’m not going to kill it, and I don’t think I can catch it either. Mice freak me out.”
“Alright, then, I’ll do it,” I said, shaking my head.
I lifted and tossed the couch forward in one motion. I was already moving forward when my brain caught up to what it was seeing.
“What is that!?” Athena cried as a scaled tail rounded the corner to the basement door.
“It looked like a lizard,” I said, looking up at Athena.
“You deal with it, Curtis. I’m going out for a cigarette. I don’t want anything to do with lizards. How the hell did it get in here? We live in New England. Isn’t it too cold for those things?” she said.
“It’s supposed to be. We haven’t owned the house very long, maybe its an old pet or something from the previous owner,” I suggested. “You go smoke, and I’ll see if I can find it.”
“Be careful. It might be poisonous or something,” Athena said, visibly shivering.
“I will,” I laughed.
I crept forward slowly, trying not to make any sounds, but the hardwood floor creaked as though the house wanted to warn my prey. Peaking around the corner, keeping my eyes low, I found the heat register had been pried up and was sitting at an odd angle.
“So that’s how you’re getting in,” I muttered.
I opened the basement door, turned on the light, and went down the stairs slowly. I could hear the sound of coins clinking together in the far rear corner where the granite foundation met with the newer cement wall. I tiptoed through, careful not to crunch anything on the cement floor until I reached the light where the soil started.
I flicked the light on and saw a flash of something near the far wall, but it still looked like a stone to me. I took a step closer and heard a tiny mewling growl in front of me.
“It’s okay, little guy. I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said, crouching low with my hands up. I could feel my heart beating in my chest as images of komodo dragons, and other dangerous lizards passed through my mind. “Please, don’t hurt me either,” I added.
The mewling growl didn’t stop, but something shimmered against the far wall as what I thought was a rock morphed into a tiny silver scaled creature with small, leathery wings extending out covering a pile of coins.
“What are you?” I muttered. “You look like a-nope. Not possible.”
The lizard folded its wings up and lifted its head as it sat regally, its tail wrapping around the minuscule clawed feet supporting it. It opened its maw, revealing hundreds of needle-like teeth. A tiny flash of fire came out and vanished almost instantly.
“Holy shit. Are you a dragon?” I asked.
The creature’s front right hand, for lack of a better term, patted the coin pile beneath it.
“You want money?” I asked, feeling my pockets. I shoved my hand in my left pocket and fished out a few coins. I slowly moved forward, crouching lower as the bare earth portion of the basement rose closer to the floor above my head. I held the coins out at arm’s length and stopped when the small dragon mewed once more.
It lowered its head and crept toward me slowly. Its amber eyes observed me, clearly nervous that I was playing some sort of trick on it. When it reached a foot away, it paused, sniffed the air near me, and waited for a long moment. I felt my body beginning to shake from the strain of trying to hold as still as possible at such an odd position as it put one hand on my index finger.
Its claws felt like tiny razors against my skin, but the creature was gentle as it placed another on my ring finger and pulled down on my hand. I lowered it slowly as its eyes flicked from mine to the coins then back again.
“Go ahead,” I whispered, nodding only slightly. “They are all yours.”
The dragon snatched the coins with speed I didn’t think it had and ran back to its pile where it spun around and stared at me, the coins in its maw.
“That’s where all my change has been disappearing to,” I whispered, a smile on my face.
As though it understood me, it opened its mouth, letting the coins fall onto its hoard and patted them with its hand.
“How is this even possible?” I muttered. “Do you understand me?”
The dragon bobbed its head twice.
“This is crazy!” I said, putting my hands on my head. “Do you have a name?”
The dragon bobbed its head again.
“Curtis?” Athena called from the top of the stairs.
I didn’t move a muscle but watched the tiny dragon spread its wings around the coins and shift to resemble the stone once more.
“Athena, come here,” I whispered as loud as I could possibly whisper.
“Why are you whispering?” she replied as I heard her walk down the stairs. “Did it bite you?”
“Shhh,” I said, waving her over as she reached the bottom of the stairs. “You need to see this.”
I fished into my pocket again for a few more pennies than I had ignored last time. I stopped Athena right behind me as I crept a little closer and extended my hand again.
“Here you go, buddy,” I whispered, “It’s okay. She couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“What are you-” Athena stopped speaking as soon as the dragon moved again. This time it snapped its jaw a few times toward her.
“That’s Athena, my wife. My name’s Curtis. You’re okay. No one’s going to hurt you here. You want some more money?” I whispered.
The dragon turned to me and bobbed its head a few times before it left its pile and approached me again. This time it didn’t stop next to my hand, but it did look from me to Athena a few times before it climbed right in my hand, leaving its tail hanging off the ends of my fingers as it sat down and cocked its head to the side.
“I don’t get it either, buddy,” I whispered.
“Is that a dragon?” Athena asked as I turned slowly.
“I’m just letting her get a better look at you,” I whispered, “I promise I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Holy shit,” Athena said, covering her mouth.
“Right?” I said, totally unwilling to take my eyes from the tiny creature in my hand. “Can you talk? Like the legends and movies say?”
The dragon bobbed a few more times.
“Will you tell me your name?” I asked.
The dragon opened its maw and snapped it a few times as though experimenting. It mewed a few times, changing the pitch and rhythm as though it were trying to shape the words.
“Be-Bem-Bembot,” it said before adding, “the mag-magnificent.”
“You sure are, buddy,” I said, nodding.
“Bembot,” it corrected.
“Sorry. Bembot,” I smiled, shaking my head.
“More treasure?” it said, tilting its head to the side.
“I think that’s all I have with me right now,” I replied.
Bembot shook its head slowly and jumped off my hand, returning to its pile of coins.
“Bring Bembot more treasure. Bembot will give you favor,” Bembot said.
“How is this possible?” I asked.
“Bembot woke up here. Bembot could smell treasure. Bembot claimed the treasure,” it replied.
“How long ago did you wake up here?” Athena asked.
“Bembot know. Seventy-five suns,” it replied.
“We bought the house three months ago, Curtis,” Athena said. “They didn’t mention a dragon in the basement.”
“I don’t know any better than you do right now, Athena,” I replied, still awestruck by the tiny creature.
“Bring Bembot more treasure. You are excused,” Bembot said, waving a hand at them dismissively.
“O-Okay,” I said, shaking my head. I was sure I looked like a fool with the smile plastered to my face as I backed away. “We’ll come back with more treasure.”
“Bembot grant you favor,” it said, nodding. “Bring treasure.”
“We will,” I said as I reached Athena. I turned around feeling like a child that had caught Santa delivering presents. “Let’s go upstairs!”
Athena nodded, still staring in disbelief.
“We have a dragon in our basement,” I said as we reached the top of the stairs. “How the hell did we get a dragon in our basement?”