by Valerie L. Egar
When Mr. Gibbons said I would need to return Ziti to the wild, I was angry. I’d grown to love him and his dragon ways. I worried about him living outside. What if the other dragons rejected him? What if people discovered the dragons and hurt him?
Before anyone could say anything more, I grabbed Ziti’s leash, whistled for him to come and ran out the door. Mom yelled, “Terry! Come back!” Sheriff Joe shouted, “Stop,” but we just kept going. I needed time to think.
We ended up in the small park that edges the river. I sat on a swing and scuffed my sneakers back and forth in the dirt. “What are we going to do, Ziti?” I ran my fingers along his shoulder blades to feel if his wings were starting to bud, a sign he was reaching maturity. Sure enough, I felt little nubs under his skin.
Just then, I heard flapping, high in a pine. Ziti squealed and in a puff of smoke, Melchinor appeared. Melissa ran up and quickly clicked a leash onto his collar. She’d been looking for him and was out of breath.
“Finally! He really ran me around, but I don’t think anyone saw him!”
I wasn’t feeling talkative. I was mad at Melissa, too. She never told me she had to release Melchinor into the wild when he matured and that I would have to do the same with Ziti. “You never told me I’d have to give Ziti up!”
“Once you realized he was wild, I thought you knew.”
“Well, I didn’t and I’m not doing it. I don’t want to.”
Melissa shook her head. “Terry, you can’t keep him. It’s hard enough keeping the dragons a secret. If you kept him, you’d put all the dragons on Crenshaw Mountain at risk.”
“We’ll go somewhere, hide.”
“Did Dad explain to Sheriff Joe what the dragons do?”
I nodded. “They have important work to do. Ziti isn’t a pet. He needs to be with the other dragons.”
Mom came running up. “I’m so glad I found you.” She hugged me. “Terry, I know you love Ziti, but he’ll never be safe in town. Think about what almost happened with Melchinor. Releasing him back into the wild with the other dragons is the right thing to do.”
Deep in my heart, I knew she was right. I still didn’t like it though.
A few weeks later, Ziti’s wings were fully formed and I knew he could fly. I hooked his collar to a long rope and when I went to Melissa’s he zoomed from tree to tree. We laughed— it was like flying a kite that had its own power. Melissa had released Melchinor after the incident in town. Now, it was time for me to release Ziti.
Mr. Gibbons guided us to the top of Crenshaw Mountain, near the dragons’ lair. I unbuckled Ziti’s collar and rubbed his head. “I love you, stay safe.” A little smoke puffed from his nostrils and he rubbed his head on my face. Then, he flapped his wings, and flew towards the top of the mountain. Watching through the binoculars, I saw Melchinor fly to greet him. They circled once overhead and then, they were gone.
The walk back down the mountain was quiet and miserable. No one said a word. It was small comfort that Mr. Gibbons told me I’d done the right thing.
When I got home, all I wanted to do was go to my room and close the door, but a small black puppy was waiting for me in the kitchen. He had long fur, white paws and floppy ears.
“I thought you’d like a puppy,” said Mom. “You did a great job with Ziti.”
The little guy wagged his tail and looked like he’d be a lot easier to raise than a dragon. I patted him on the head and named him Ziti in honor of my dragon friend, safe at the top of Crenshaw Mountain.