Sox saw it first. From her seat at the dinner table, Taylor watched the cat's eyes widen and her ears flatten back against her head. The cat stared, a ball of indignantly bristled fur and slitted eyes, at the framed picture on the wall. In a few effortless strides, Sox sprung from where she sat on the floor and up onto the top of the couch. She pushed her small face up close to the picture, an innocuous and flatly boring mountain print, and lifted a velvet paw to pat at the bottom corner of the scene.
"Taylor" Her father's voice was impatient. How long had he been speaking to her She hurriedly turned back to the table. "Sorry, Dad. What did you say"
As soon as dinner was over, Taylor quickly stood up, offering to clear the table and do the dishes. She did not feel like talking or joining her parents in front of the television where they spent most evenings. If she offered to do the cleaning up, she would be left alone in her head with the wretched misery of her thoughts, a bleak place that had begun to feel curiously familiar and almost normal. She could also check on what it was that was still holding Sox's rapt attention. She had not mentioned Sox's interest in the picture to her parents; Taylor's mother had grumbled often enough that her cat had destroyed an ornament, scratched the furniture, or wrecked something important.
Taylor saw her mother raise her eyebrows at her father and silently mouth a few words. She gave Taylor a pleased smile as she left the table but Taylor pretended not to see. Her mother stopped in front of the big dining room windows and reached over to open a window, letting in some cooler evening air after the heat of the day. The curtains fluttered in the light breeze, cheerfully shaking off the slack inertia of the afternoon. Taylor's father muttered about a TV show he wanted to watch and pushed his chair back.
Taylor waited for her parents to leave the room before she hurried over to where Sox sat on the top of the couch, still as a statue and staring fixedly at the picture. She ruffled the soft fur on the top of the cat's head, between her ears and with just the right amount of pressure, but her pet refused to pay Taylor any attention. "What is it, puss-cat" Taylor bent in close to the print to follow Sox's gaze. She squinted her eyes and peered at the scene through just a narrow crack of focus. Behind the glass of the picture, on the grey slopes of a painted mountain, she saw something move. What was that Taylor lurched back, startled, as Sox rose up on all fours and hissed. Something jumped out of the picture, launching itself forward from the base of the mountain in a blurred rush.
Taylor looked down in confusion as her brain struggled to catch up. There was a large bug caught in her long hair and scrabbling frantically to free itself. She brushed at it quickly, feeling disgusted as she attempted to untangle its icky, raspy legs from the strands of hair. As the skin of her hand made contact with the insect, Taylor felt an unexpectedly sharp tingle of heat. Sox watched intently, her mouth open to show her pale pink tongue and pointed rows of teeth, as if she hoped for the bug to come on in! The tip of the cat's tail jerked backwards and forwards in agitated concentration and her eyes darkened in anticipation. At last, the bug freed itself and flew out of Taylor hair to land on the top of her hand. It was not a bug.
Taylor gawped at the tiny yellow dragon, her mouth slack with surprise, and wondered if her eyes had gone stupid on her again. The dragon was no more than two inches high, with brilliant green eyes, an elongated snout, and a long, tapering tail. A jagged line of triangular fins ran along its spine and a minute pair of gossamer wings protruded from its back. Small black talons, the tips sharp enough to make indentations on the skin of Taylor's hand, curved from each of its scaly feet. Without warning, Sox braced her paws against the top of the chair and launched herself at the creature. Taylor snatched her hand out of the way and the cat landed heavily on the floor at her feet. Sox turned and looked at her mistress, displeasure laced with hatred clearly visible in her yellow eyes. She switched her tail back and forth and stalked out of the room, every atom of her little body rippling with annoyance.
As Taylor watched, the dragon laid itself down and wrapped its tail snuggly around its compact body. With a tiny, perfect sigh, it closed its eyes and lay still. The skin on Taylor's hand burned gently. Moving carefully, so as not to disturb it, she went to the table and picked up an empty water glass. Quickly now, Taylor snatched up the glass and tipped the dragon inside before slamming a coaster on the top of the glass to trap it. She lifted the glass to eye-level, keeping the coaster firmly in place with her hand, and stared at her captive.
The dragon had landed on its back at the bottom of the glass and was struggling to right itself, its small, clawed feet cycling agitatedly in the air. Within moments, it was back on its feet and scowling crossly at Taylor from within the confines of its transparent prison. It stared at her for several minutes, and Taylor returned its stare with rapt fascination. Finally, its green eyes sparking furiously, it drew its head back and emitted a stream of orange and yellow flames in her direction. Taylor screamed and dropped the glass, watching as it fell on its side and rolled across the table, but she was unable to move in time to stop its freefall. The dragon hopped to the rim of the glass, spread its tiny shimmering wings, and gracefully flew out the open window.