Classrooms used to be simple: tiny square desks, chalk on blackboard, old TV and VCR on a squeaky trolley…
Mrs. Dee, the new homeroom teacher, didn’t seem to know how to wipe the blackboard. Every time she raised her arm she did an awkward shrug with her shoulders, as if a giant, invisible hand was patting her on the head.
Donnie was annoyed. All those chalky rainbows strewn across the algebra was making the numbers hard to read. From the back row, Mrs. Dee’s handwriting looked like a school of wriggling tadpoles; no matter how hard he squinted Donnie couldn’t figure out what manner of creature X was supposed to be.
So he raised his hand, and after twenty or so seconds of being ignored, Donnie spoke up: “Excuse me!”
She turned around in a hurry, her face flush. The stub of chalk between her fingers slipped out with a pop and tumbled under the lectern, which made her cheeks even redder.
“Donnie, what is it now?” she says, yanking a fresh chalk out of her breast pocket with the expertise of a chain smoker.
“I-I couldn’t see.”
“I couldn’t see what you wrote Mrs. Dee.”
Propping her hands on her sizable hips, Mrs. Dee smiled like one of those used car salesmen Donnie often saw on TV, ones that often stood underneath big, flashing CLEARANCE signs and yelled out catchphrases like GET ONE TODAY or CALL US NOW, as if the louder they yelled the more people were going to buy their cars.
“If that’s the case,” she said, “better get yourself some glasses Donnie.”
And even though that wasn’t very funny, the whole class laughed. Christie, the girl sitting by the window whom everyone in the class – Donnie included – had a crush on, was snickering into her hand. Jamie, sitting in front of Donnie, actually turned around and slapped his desk, knocking up all the pencils and sending books tumbling from the compartment under his desk.
Confused, Donnie slowly put his hand down and bent over to pick them up. Just so happened that he had a class for every subject today, and his desk was crammed full. Not that it has ever been not full; pretty sure the colouring book from two years ago was still –
“Is that a colouring book Donnie?”
Sure enough, sprawled on top of his dog-eared copy of Elementary English was a thin pad full of glossy pages. On the cover it featured a gang of pirates posing on the helm of a toy-like wooden ship, brandishing their hooks and rum bottles. For some reason, the pirates were all wearing turquoise overcoats and bright orange hats.
Donnie picked it up quickly, shuffling it under Algebra for Dummies so people would quit staring. There was no reason to be embarrassed – everybody had the same book in junior art class – yet he couldn’t help but let his face turn red.
“Hey Christie!” Jamie yelled across the room. “Donnie still has his colouring book!”
She gave him a scathing look. “Why should I care?”
Donnie didn’t know which was worse: that she now knew about the orange-hatted pirates, or that she was completely disinterested. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dee watched this all happen from the front of the class and said nothing; Jamie was on the soccer team, and they had just won the state championship two weeks ago. Donnie hasn’t won a thing since coming second place in spelling bee last year, and people don’t usually count second place as winning anyway.
Keeping his mouth shut, Donnie shoved the colouring book back into his desk with a little more force than he’d liked.
What was that? Donnie looked around, and saw only face grinning at him or faces annoyed that mathematics was being interrupted. Who could’ve made that sound?
Ah, it must’ve been in his head. It was hot today, and there was only one fan in the front of the classroom, catering for the first two rows.
As he bent over to pick up more books, Donnie just so happened to look into the compartment of his desk, and he saw a little dragon peeking out from behind the colouring book.
Donnie stared at it, and forgot all about what he was doing.
“Hi there,” the dragon said, sounding like a squeaky toy, “nice to meet you.”
“H-hello,” Donnie said, not knowing the polite way to speak to a dragon.
“I’m Calcifer the Calamitous, what’s your name?”
“I’m Donnie. What’s a calamitous?”
The little dragon fluttered proudly its leathery wings. “It means I am good at breaking things.”
“How come you are in my desk?” Donnie asked.
“What a strange question,” Calcifer replied. “It is my home, this cosy desk. Until you took out all the books, that is. Now it’s not so cosy.” As if to show its annoyance, Calcifer opened its jaws and blew out a small ball of fire; it landed on the spine of the colouring book, charring the edges a little bit.
“Whoa!” Donnie exclaimed, almost falling out of his chair. This drew the attention of Mrs. Dee, who only just managed to get everyone’s attention again.
“Donnie!” She yelled. “Would you kindly stop disturbing the class with your antics?”
Everyone looked around for the second time, but this time no one was laughing. Christie actually covered her mouth in fright. As grumpy as she often was, it was very fare for Mrs. Dee to shout; she must be having a tough day indeed.
“Sorry Mrs. Dee,” said Donnie, “but there is a dragon in my desk.”
(To Be Continued)