"So Stephan, how was school today?" Mrs. Marcelli asked him, completely ignoring me.
"It was ok, I guess. You can't do much better than a one hour day." He chuckled.
"I still don't understand why you insisted to go only for the last period. What's the point of even going at all?" His father said bitterly.
"I just...you know, wanna take it slow..." Stephan replied, shrinking lower in his chair.
"I just don't understand..." His father replied.
"Oh, be easy on him. It's hard enough being the new kid at school, on top of..." Mrs. Marcelli interjected, before trailing off at the mention of his appearance. He seemed to try to sink lower in his chair, but he couldn't quite go down any more. The awkward silence enveloped the room once again. I felt like I had to break it.
"Well, hey, um, at least he sits next to me in Spanish! From what I've heard, he knows what he's doing pretty well. Maybe he can help me figure out that crazy language!" I exclaimed, forcing a chuckle out in the process.
"We started to learn the same stuff you're doing now. If you need help at all..." Stephan said.
"Yeah that would be nice." I said apprehensively.
"Oh, well, if you want, you can stay over tonight so you two can study!" Mrs. Marcelli suggested. I suddenly felt uptight. I didn't wanna sleep over, I barely knew the guy! I had to act fast.
"Uh, no that's ok! Maybe some other time." I said quickly and nervously.
"Oh, come now! There's no time like the present!" Mr. Marcelli interjected.
"Dad, I don't think he's aloud, he didn't even ask his parents!" Stephen said in my defense.
"His parent's are away for the weekend, he said it himself!" Mrs. Marcelli chimed in.
"Yeah, but I don't have a sleeping bag or anything, I'm not prepared." I argued back.
"Stephen's room is big enough for both of you, and he has an extra mattress anyway!" Mr. Marcelli exclaimed. Oh, perfect. Not only would I have to stay over, I'd have to stay in his room!
"Dad, it wouldn't work out, it just wouldn't..." Stephen said.
"And why not?" Mrs. Marcelli asked.
"Well...because..." He said trailing off. He didn't want to tell the truth that both of us knew, but his parent's didn't get. We weren't friends. Never have been, never will be. We're just too...different.
"Exactly. Now I want you two to go upstairs and set everything up. We have spare toothbrushes...still in the packaging, don't worry, and you look about Stephan's size, so you should fit in his cloths pretty well. Oh, this'll be so much fun!" Mrs. Marcelli exclaimed.
I sighed, I knew it was over now. The plans had been made, and everything was set up to go. "Thanks for letting me stay, Mrs. Marcelli" I said exhaustedly, just to be courteous. Well...maybe it wouldn't be so bad. If we just stayed out of eachother's way, it would be like neither of us were there at all. We just needed to ignore eachother, like we wouldv'e done anyway. Soon, we finished our food, and the two adults left the kitchen, leaving me and the dragon alone.
"Follow me." Stephan said, after a long period of silence. I followed his tail up the stairs and around the corner into his room. Once again, I was surprised. I had subconsciously expected a cave, or some sort of satanic decor in the room, but it looked normal. Like a normal teenage boy's room would look. He walked over to his bed and pulled out a mattress from under the top one. "Where do you want this?" He asked.
"I don't care...anywhere is fine," I responded. He shrugged and placed the mattress near the closet door. When he put it down, I noticed a box filled with papers on the ground next to it. I peeked inside it. They were all drawings. I walked over to the box and held up one of them. A fully colored lizard, almost perfect in it's design. I could see every muscle, every spot, and every shadow on it. Not only that, but there was a list of stats on it as well. It was more of a reference sheet. Every little detail was labeled and numbered. "Did you draw these?" I asked in amazement. They almost looked realistic.
"Huh? Oh...yeah." He said, while turning around to face me.
"These are...incredible!" I exclaimed, while flipping through them. There were a lot of drawings of lizards, the same one as the first, but some closer up, some farther away, some at a different perspective, and some even mapping the inside of it. All of them were like a cross examination, every detail labeled.
"They're really not that good..." He said modestly, although the faint smile from the compliment was proving him otherwise.
"Are you kidding me!? These are magnificent! I don't think any human couldv'e made something so amazing!" I said. Once again, i mentally kicked myself for once again pointing out that he was different...a lot different. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that..." I appologized pathetically.
"It's ok, don't worry about. I'm used to it..." He said, reciting his mantra again. I wasn't gonna let him get away with it again, though.
"No, it's not ok. I messed up, and I'm sorry. 'I'm used to it' shouldn't be an excuse for my words" I said forcefully. He stared at me for a while. First with shock, and then with...admiration? That's what it looked like to me, at least.
"Then I banish you from my castle, noble knight! You'll never get your princess back! Mwahaha!" He said, trying to keep a straight face, and failing. A few seconds later, he made a small snicker. He tired to contain it, but it went out off control. He started to giggle. It seems that I couldn't keep my poker face as well, as I started to giggle as well. It was like a cycle at that point, as he started to laugh regularly, making me do so as well. It felt like hours that we just stood there, laughing at a small joke that wouldn't have been that funny under "normal" circumstances. And just when we thought we were done, he snorted. Not a normal human nasel system snort, a draconic snort of the sorts. It sounded almost like a roar played backwards. It was funny as hell. We both almost suffocated from laughing, we litterally "Rofl'd". I don't know what came over us just then, but it really helped lighten the atmosphere. It seemed less like a kid and dragon in a room, and more like two strangers just hanging out. After we calmed down, silence took the room. But for once, it wasn't awkward. We just sat there, smiling like idiots at nothing at all. I began to sort through his drawings again. I had gotten through the lizards by now, and had gotten to the dragons. But not just dragons. Him.
They were more cross-references of him. Everything was exact. Exact measurements, exact muscle mass, exact everything. Every detail was perfect, even ever crease in his wings. Some of them head shots, some of them back. Every angle imaginable, and he drew it all. It was amazing. As I flipped through all the pictures, I came to a few that were quite different. Very different. It was a sequence. The first picture was Stephan, scales and all, but on his arm...his arm looked like a normal human arm. Each picture showed him more human. Each with it's own observations and notes, just like all the other sheets. By the last frame, he was completely human. But not just any human, but the boy in the picture from the living room.
"...Is this how it is?" I asked him. He looked at me in confusion, and then saw what I was holding. He was silent. I continued on. "Is this what you want? Are you really just a replacing him?" I asked solemnly.
"I...yes. I'm replacing their human son." He said. He couldn't look me in the eye while he said it.
"What happened?" I asked. There was a long silence. It looked like he would never answer. "It's ok if you don't wanna talk about it..." I said. He stayed silence. But not for long.
"I killed him." He said. My heart stopped. I half expected it, I'll admit it. But I didn't want it to be true. Just those three words made my body shiver. What's stopping him from killing me? "You can leave if you want, I'll make up a story to my parents..." He said. I could tell he sensed my uneasiness.
"No..." I said confidentially. My heart was racing and my palms sweating, but I just had to know. "Not yet. I want to know what happened first." I said. He was quiet once again, still not staring at me, only at the ground. I was determined to find out. He just didn't seem the type to kill. There had to be some explanation.
"I...I sneezed on him..." He said after a period of silence.
"You...sneezed?" I asked sceptically. That's how he died? Seriously?
"Well...uh...yeah. I sneezed and his...hair caught on fire..." He said again.
"...Are you serious?" I asked annoyed. At least if he's gonna lie, he should lie well.
"Um...let me finish. He ran away and stuff...and, uh...ran into the street...and got hit...by a truck." He said nervously.
"Seriously." I said. "Knock it off. Stop bullshitting me. Tell me the truth." I said, annoyed.
"That is the truth..." He said, trying to convince me.
"No, it isn't. I don't appreciate being lied to. I don't care if you're a human, I don't care if your a dragon. Either way, don't lie to me." I said. Silence once again.
"...You don't care, huh?" He asked.
"What?" I asked in confusion.
"You don't care what I am, huh? You sure have a funny way of showing it." He said spitefully.
"What's that supposed to mean!?" I asked angrily. I didn't care what he was...did I?
"You know damn well what it means! You're just like everyone else!" He screamed at me.
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" I said. How did this turn against me? Wait...how did this turn against me?
"You know what I mean! You don't like me cause I'm a dragon...and...stuff!" He snarled. But the way he said and stuff seemed odd. It seemed forced.
"You're lying" I said calmly, and with a slight smile
"Wha...what? N-no I'm not!" He said, stumbling across the words. He was starting to break.
"You don't think of me that way, you're just trying to avoid telling me what happened!" I said, admittedly happy that I saw through his ruse.
"Yeah, well, you're the one who kept pestering me about it." He said in defeat.
"Well, you did have me going for a while," I said, giving a chuckle.
"I guess. You have to understand, it's a touchy topic..." He said sullenly.
"Yeah, I do...I'm sorry" I said. I truly was sorry, as well. He seemed like a nice person, there had to be some sort of accident. There was no other explanation for it.
"It's fine, man." He said with a Mona Lisa-smile. "I'm sorry I kinda flipped out like that." He hesitated a bit, then began to speak once more. "I do feel that way though. About everyone else. No one treats me like they should, and I'm not gonna lie. It pisses me off. A lot. Can you honestly say that I've acted like the goddamn monster I look like?" He spat, getting angrier with ever word. "I just don't understand...What did I do wrong!? I just don't understand..." He said, calming down a bit.
"Well, I'm not gonna lie either. I didn't like you at all, either. I hated you. A lot. I just thought you were some freaky monster that didn't belong." I said with a straight face. He looked down partly in disgust and partly in shame. "But then by a series of unfortunate events...no, not the crappy book series...I learned that you weren't all that bad of a guy. The sad truth is that society is a bitch and a whore. If you don't give it the normality it wants, it'll hate you forever." He looked down in sadness again. "But not everyone is that way...or rather, stays that way. I'm sorry. I truly am sorry for being a bitch and a whore. I'm sorry." He opened his mouth to say something, but I stopped him before I could. "And no, don't say "It's ok, I'm used to it." You sound like a broken record. Sometimes you got to be wrong, and learn from mistakes. I live with serenity now, not self-righteous hate."
"Thanks...thanks a lot, dude" He said with a full draconic grin. "It really does mean a lot to me."
"No problem, dude." I said "So....what do you want to do now?" I asked.
"I don't know...what do you usually do for fun?" He asked me while he shrugged.
"Well, I'm sort of an athlete myself. I like all sports. I really love basketball though." I said.
"Great! Where can we go to play?" He said enthusiastically. I was surprised at his interest.
"Well, there's a court that no one uses down at old Fort Vicarious. It's quite a nice court, but ever since they made the new one at Sanctum Park, no one uses it any more. We pass my house on the way there, so we can pick up a ball. You wanna go?" I asked.
"Sure! Lead the way!" He said to me. I smiled and walked out of the room, the dragon following me out. I walked down the stairs into the hall and headed towards the door. "Mom, I'm going out to play basketball! I'll be back soon!" He yelled into the living room right before we left.
"Ok! Be back before it gets dark!" She yelled back, as we walked out the door.
I glanced at my watch. It was only 6:00. That gave us a good two hours of playing before twilight. We walked...well, ran... down the empty streets of Highridge towards the abandoned fort. We were at my house in a matter of minutes, and I picked up my lucky ball. We ran down the streets once again, passing houses along the way, until they started to fade out; less houses with every yard we ran. Stephan started to notice. "Is this fort at the edge of the town, or what?" He asked.
"Yeah, sort of. No one wants to be near it after the accident" I said. He slowed down a bit, and me with him.
"What do you mean, 'accident?'" He asked.
"Well, you'll see in a bit." I said, as we approached our target. We sped downhill as The Shining Fortress appeared on the crimson horizon, in all of its demolished glory. I looked over to see his eyes widen as we slowed down once again. "It was built a few years ago by a bunch of my friends, myself included. My friend Greg's parents owned the small plot of land that they had nothing to do with, so we made Fort Vicarious as a summer project. We had everything planned out perfectly, every board measure and cut, hell, we even had one of the kid's dad inspect it. Everything was perfect, he was surprised how amazingly it was built. 4 stories high, with a flag and our logo on it. A golden phoenix cut from cellophane and embedded in. My dad was even willing to string up the electricity for lighting. And my dad made that fort bright, which gave it the nickname "The Shining Fortress". We spent almost our whole summer in that fortress, hell, we even had an air conditioner and a microwave. And with the lake and the basketball court, it was our home away from home. Until, one August night, The Shining Fortress collapsed. Without warning, without reason, it collapsed. No one was hurt...except for Jeff and Greg. They were the lasts one in the fortress, and didn't make it. Greg was fatally wounded and was life-flighted to a hospital, and Jeff...Jeff was never found. Greg's last words before he died in that hospital bed confound me though. 'Jeff...needs...to...die'. It didn't make sense, the police even said that no one could have survived that tragedy. No one goes here any more because they believe that it's haunted, that they hear strange demonic growls, that they feel the heat from hell emiting under the ground, normal urban myths. I don't buy it though. I've known Jeff all my life, and no one could damn him, not even Satan. Even if his spirit still travels through The Shattered Fortress's walls, it's just looking for a way out. He can't break out of the prison all alone, I believe, and maybe a friendly voice will help him break right through the prison wall." I explained.
"So you believe in spirits as well?" He asked, and I nodded. "Me too, and maybe we can help your friend. But for now, you have a basketball game to lose!"
"Oh, your on!" I exclaimed as we headed towards the abandoned court, the fallen remains of Fort Vicarious looming over us. "Let's see we you got, freshy!" I said competitivly as I checked the ball. He started to dribble down court, myself in a defensive stance. He took a wild shot from behind half court. I ran over to the basket prepared to get the rebound. The black ball bounced off the rim and into the air as I situated myself to recieve it after gravity did its work. It started to come down, but seemingly disappeared out of thin air. I looked around in confusion for the ball scratching my head the whole time.
"Looking for this?" I heard Stephan's voice chuckle. I turned around in the direction that the noise came from. There was the dragon, sitting on top of the rim, with the ball in his hands. He dropped it through the net as soon as I looked. "I think that's my point." He said with a toothy grin and flexing his wings.
"I think that's classified as 'cheating'" I said, slightly annoyed, but mostly impressed by his sneakiness.
"Hey, there's no rule that says no flying. I have no problem with you flying to your basket." He said as he jumped from the net, still smiling. "Oh wait..."
"Oh, shut up. My court, my rules, no flying." I said to him.
"Deal" He said, as he checked the ball back to me. I started to dribble towards my net when he got in position. I did a few fake out moves, some dribbling techniques that my coach taught me, and some of my own flare, but he stayed with me the whole way. He was quite the opponent. After five minutes of trying to dribble around him, i finally accepted the fact that there was no getting an easy shot off. I took a chance with a quick spin and shot. The ball bounced off the backboard and right into Stephan's claws. He ran down to his end of the court, with me on his tail...literally. I accidentally stepped on the scaled surface, causing both of us to trip and stumble on the ground. "I think that's a foul!" He said angrily as he rubbed the dirt off of his red appendage.
"Sorry, I'm not used to people having 5 limbs!" I replied back.
"Get used to it!" He scoffed.
"Oh, just take your shots!" I said. He picked up the ball and went to the foul line. "We always do two shots, no matter the type of foul." I said. He nodded, and with two throws, he was now up by two. This was gonna be a long game.
And a long game it was. We matched each other almost move for move. He was better at defense than offense, and I was better at offense than at defense. Each time one of pulled ahead, the other stepped up their game. It went on like this for the full 2 hours. Now it was twilight with the score tied at 50, and he had the ball. I put my hands on my knees a took deep breaths while he prepared to start. "This is exhausting" I thought to myself, as I looked up at him. "How is he not tired at all!? He's not even sweating! Wait, do dragon's sweat? Would the glands be on the scales them selves? Maybe they're under the scales. Or is he like a dog; does he just pant? Well, he is a dragon, so maybe the heat actually regulates him. But is a fire dragon? Maybe he's an ice dragon and just cold all the time. I wonder what happens if you try to melt an ice dragon..." I pondered to myself, before I realized that I was just mindlessly ranting. "No, no, no! I have to stop. I need to concentrate on the task ahead"
"Hey" Stephan said, before he started to dribble. "Wanna just call it a game? Just have it tied?"
He must have noticed my fatigue. I wasn't gonna take his pitty. "No...we'll keep going. I will beat you, you lizard." I said with staggard breaths.
"Well, suit yourself, meatbag." He said to me, as he started to dribble down the court. I braced myself for the worst. I was ready for anything at this point, I had seen all of his tactics...so I thought. I fell for the oldest trick in the book. He bounced the ball right between my legs and ran by to retrieve it. I mustered all my stregnth and ran after the dragon. I pushed myself to the limit, as he aimed up for an easy shot. I saw the ball leave his hands, as I took a leap. I jumped infront of the ball while it was in the air and slammed it down onto the court. I fell on the ground with a thud, but it was worth it. I looked up to see the ball hovering in the air directly above Stephan. My angle was bad, I slammed the ball straight down causing to just bounce high. The lizard stuck out his claws and casually grabbed it from the air. He looked down at me with a smirk.
"...Wanna call it a game?" I asked pitifully.
"Sure! Right after this shot." He remarked back, as he aimed and released. Swish. Nothing but net.