I toss the last sock into my laundry basket and turn back to my unmade bed, where four shiny quarters should be sitting. They’re not.
Frowning, I look under the rumpled sheets. Under my pillow. On the floor.
I swear I put quarters there two minutes ago.
“Hey, Matt?” I say. “You got any quarters?”
“I gotta do laundry tomorrow.” My roommate shoves a slice of pizza in his mouth. It’s cold by now, but they don’t allow microwaves in the dorm. “Get your own quarters, Drew.”
That’s the thing. I had quarters. Lots of them. But every time I turn around, they vanish.
At least it’s not my keys, I guess. But if I want to avoid smelling like an armpit, I need some quarters. Now.
“Look, man, I just need four. I’ll pay you back––”
“Like you’ll pay me back for all the other quarters?”
I guess I could ask my Resident Assistant, Nick, but seriously. This is stupid. And it hasn’t just been quarters; it’s been any coin I lay out. I look away and bam, they’re gone. “I swear I had them. They were just on my bed.”
“I dunno, man. I think it’s that Venus paper.” Matt finishes the slice with a loud smacking of his sauce-covered lips. “It’s frying your brain.”
He’s not wrong. For the past two weeks, every thought that has gone through my head––unfortunately for my other professors and my social life––is about the hottest planet in our solar system.
Note to self: college sucks.
Matt disappears into his room, probably to play whatever video game he’s obsessed with at the moment. I’m on my own.
I glance at my laundry basket, then at the bed. Okay, this has to stop. I’m gonna find where all this change is going, or so help me, I’ll go naked.
I scour our dorm room––my room, our kitchenette, even the bathroom. Just lots of laundry––now only Matt’s––strewn across the floor, food trash on the couch, pieces of former homework balled up in corners. No coins.
My bed. I didn’t look under my bed.
Let me rephrase that––I never look under my bed. Who knows what kind of crap is there?
Gritting my teeth, I kneel down, my knees aching––I swear I’m eighteen, not fifty––and peer into the blackness. Mostly dust, so it’s better than I thought, but there, gleaming in the dull light, is a pile of coins––and on top of it is a creature.
And when I say a creature, I mean a dragon. A tiny, bunny-sized dragon with golden scales and burnt orange eyes giving me the fiercest glare I have ever seen.
I scramble backward and rub my eyes. It’s that stupid paper. I knew it was going to be the death of me. It’s making me hallucinate that there’s a dragon the color of Venus’ surface sitting under my bed.
I stick my head under again. Underneath its tiny claws are all my missing quarters––and the other change too.
“So you’re the thief,” I hiss. Maybe if I touch it, I’ll find out it’s fake…?
The dragon snorts a tiny orange flame, and I bang my head on the bedframe. Right. Dragons breathe fire in all the stories. Better not get my hand close to that little demon.
Muttering swears, I scowl at the creature. It really does look like Venus, all molten gold and fury. “I need my quarters. Now.”
I smack my head on the bedframe again. Rubbing my head, I crawl out from underneath the bed.
Matt’s wearing space-themed pajama pants dotted with stars and planets––yep, there’s good old Venus. I literally can’t get away from it.
“What’re you doing?”
“Looking for the quarters.” My voice cracks like a preteen’s.
He takes a sip of soda. “Just buy something with cash tomorrow and get some change for it.”
I stay on the ground. “I don’t have cash. I’m a broke college student.”
“Sucks to be you, man.” He shakes his head. “Look, if you want a break from your paper, you can game with me.”
“Just give me a minute.” I’ll straighten things out with this thieving dragon, and then I’ll electronically destroy my roommate.
“Whatever.” Matt disappears again.
I crawl back toward the bed. The dragon is still there. Maybe I should’ve asked Matt to take a look and confirm that I’m not crazy.
It’s kinda cool, though, hallucination or not. Its wings press tightly against its body, making it look like a golden lizard. Is it a boy or girl dragon? And does that really matter? I dunno, but its movements seem kinda feminine to me. Let’s just say it’s a female.
“Look, Venus,” I say. “You like shiny stuff? You want shiny?” I take off my watch. Mom and Dad gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday. Probably cost them a hundred bucks. But I need my quarters.
Venus’ nostrils flare. Her gaze flicks from the watch to me, then to the coins beneath her, then to the watch.
I set the watch on the floor near the edge of the bed, far enough away that she won’t attack me. I hope. “Go get the watch.”
Her orange eyes narrow. I hold my breath. Then she darts toward the watch. I reach out and snatch a handful of coins. She lets out a high-pitched roar and rushes back to her hoard, dragging her new prize.
My chest heaves up and down. For a second, I thought she’d attack me. But she just sits back on top of her pile of coins, now complete with my fancy watch.
“Holy crap, Drew, what are you doing?”
Third time. I hate this stupid bedframe. Gritting my teeth to hold back swears, I come out from underneath the bed.
“Found the quarters,” I say weakly, holding out my hand.
Wait. I only have three. I glare under the bed. Her orange eyes gleam back.
“Is there something down there? Is there food? Do we have mold again?” Groaning, Matt drops to his knees next to me.
My eyes widen. “Wait––”
But he’s already looking under the bed. I know the exact second he saw Venus because he lets out an ear-splitting scream and bangs his head on the bedframe.
“Would you shut up? You want Nick to fine us?”
“Th-there’s a dragon,” Matt sputters.
“Yes. The coin thief. Her name is Venus. She took my quarters.” I slant an irritated glance in her direction.
“You named it?” His mouth gapes. “Or––don’t tell me––it talks?”
“No, no!” I grab Matt’s arm to keep him from running out of the room. “You can’t tell anyone.”
“Dude, there’s a––”
“I know. But…” I don’t even know why I’m hesitating. The thing took all my coins. “We’re not allowed to have pets in the dorms. They’ll freak out.”
His eyes bulge. “You’re saying this is your pet?”
“No! Er… maybe.” I mean, aside from coin stealing, dragons are pretty awesome. And this is sort of the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. I mean, why am I the one who ended up with a mini dragon underneath my bed? Fate must think I’m a pretty great guy. Either that or it’s trying to get me kicked out of college.
“You have a mythical creature as a pet?”
“Um. Yes.” I guess. Maybe Venus is my pet now. Crap, how am I supposed to hide a dragon from my RA?
“And it steals your coins?”
“And you named it after your paper?”
Matt snorts. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Don’t judge my life choices!” I peek back under and try to convince myself that she’s softening toward me. She breathes out a tiny spark. “I gave her my watch.”
“You what?” Matt groans. “Your parents will freak, Drew.”
“Yeah, but I needed my quarters back.” Okay, yeah, I guess I could’ve sold the watch and gotten a ton of quarters, but it’s too late now.
“If she’s your dragon, why won’t she listen to you?”
Um… “Because dragons are hard to train.”
“If you have had a dragon all this time, why have I never known about it?” His voice is rising. People are gonna hear him.
“Sh! I just… uh… didn’t think it was the right time to say. We’ve been roommates for what, a semester?”
“Shut it, man.” Matt levels me with a stare. “You’re lying. You just found the dragon today.”
“You can’t keep it.”
“But I named her!”
“But…” Okay, maybe I feel a tiny connection to this mini dragon. After all, she’s Venus. If she’s Venus, then I pretty much know her inside and out. “I need to at least free her, then.”
“No. I’m reporting it.”
Venus crawls out from underneath the bed, gripping a coin in her tiny claw. Both Matt and I skitter backward. Flame-bright eyes study us. Then she pushes a quarter forward.
My mouth gapes. Maybe it’s a trick to make me reach out so she can burn me.
Matt grabs the quarter instead. Venus snorts a trail of smoke. I try to pry his fingers open. “Hey! Gimme that!”
“You weren’t gonna take it!”
We wrestle, grunting and muttering swears, until we hear another high-pitched roar. I turn back toward Venus. I swear she is glaring at us like we’re naughty little children, like she had expected the coin to make us stop fighting.
“Hey,” I say. “I think that was a peace offering.”
“A what?” Matt rolls his eyes. “You’re an idiot. It’s a dragon.”
She spurts a flame that singes our carpet. Swearing, I watch the fire start to grow. Nick is gonna kill us. No, first he’ll give us a massive fine, and then he’ll kill us.
Matt lurches for the sink, turning on the faucet. Oh, yes. Water is helpful.
Venus sits on the fire, snuffing it out. We stare at her open-mouthed.
“I think that was a threat,” I say.
Matt just nods.
“Guess we’ve got a dragon now,” I say.
Venus lets out a purring sort of noise and shifts her body on the singed carpet.
“They always say college is weird, but not this weird,” Matt says.
I reach my hand out toward Venus––tentatively. She eyes it distastefully, then reaches her snout out. Her nostrils flare, but she doesn’t spurt fire on me. Instead, she sniffs me.
“Are you crazy?” Matt hisses.
Maybe so. She sniffs again, then rubs her nose against my hand, metal against flesh. Or at least, I think it’s some sort of metallic substance, but I’m not exactly an expert on dragons. Not yet, at least.
I would look over to see Matt’s reaction, but I’m mesmerized by this tiny dragon who I am becoming fonder and fonder of by the minute, despite her thieving ways and her threats. “Hey, Venus,” I say. “Good dragon. Nice dragon.”
She pulls her nose away and gives me a look of pure disdain.
I swallow. “Sorry. Uh… most esteemed Venus. We shall grant you shelter in our humble abode––”
“Why are you talking like that?” Matt says.
“––with one condition. You shall not, uh, thieve from us.”
“You mean steal?”
“I’m trying to be fancy here.” I meet Venus’ burnt-orange eyes. “Please don’t steal from us. I need quarters for my laundry. Also ’cause I’m broke.”
She lets out a world-weary sigh and then disappears back under the bed. Is she irritated? Does she even understand what I’m saying? She’s been acting like she has.
Matt lets out a low whistle. “This is the weirdest––”
Venus reappears and tosses another quarter at me. This time, I snatch it before Matt can. “Thanks,” I say. “Uh… can I have the rest of my money back?”
Her eyes narrow.
“That’s a no, then. Okay.” I let the quarter join the other three I’d managed to snag. At least I can do my laundry. “Can I have my watch back?”
With her mouth open and teeth bared, I can see the flame growing at the back of her throat.
“Okay. Nope.” Mom and Dad will just have to think I lost it. They’ll freak, but I’m not risking the fury of my dragon. “Uh. Nice doing business with you.”
Venus preens her wing, looking all royal and fancy, like she knows she’s the queen of this dorm, then goes back under my bed.
I close my hand around the quarters. Guess I’ve gotta keep better track of my change.
“Did this actually just happen?” Matt says.
“Yeah.” I stand on wobbly legs and grab my basket. “I think it did.”
Having coins for laundry is one thing. Hiding a dragon from my RA is another.
But hey, I heard one of the guys on the other floors hid a guinea pig for a year. So it can be done.
I hope you enjoyed this fun little story. When I looked at that prompt, two thoughts went through my head. One thought was, “Heck yes! Mini dragons!” The other was, “How can I make the lack of spare change something important? Who needs spare change?” And then I realized… college kids need spare change.
Fortunately, my college didn’t require payment for laundry. (They just added the estimated cost to my school bill. Yay.) But I can imagine how frustrating it would be if you needed to do laundry when you didn’t have any quarters. Hence, Drew was born.
I my end up writing more about Drew and Matt’s struggles to hide Venus from their RA Nick and the college administration. Maybe Venus will escape from the dorm room one day and cause havoc. Who knows.
Want to see a different interpretation of the same prompt? Check out my friend Laura’s story here.
Also, my apologies for waiting so long to post another story! But during the new year, I’m going to try to stick to a regular posting schedule, which should still be the first Friday of every month. Thanks for sticking with me despite my lack of predictability!
So, what about you? Does this prompt inspire you to create something? Let me know in the comments!