SCALE MAIL • by Lynne Fort

As if tectonic plates were shifting under her dark skin, the clerk’s brow furrowed.

“Sir, I’m not sure we can take this package.”

The customer, a tall, pale, reedy man, shifted his weight to his left foot. “And why not?”

“It’s moving, sir.”

He rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t mean anything. For all you know, it’s full of Mexican jumping beans, and God knows those have never hurt anyone. And have you noticed that wind outside? You do know what a draft is, don’t you — ” here he paused, dropping his eyes to her nametag, “ — Janice?”

“If the package is so harmless, why don’t you tell me what’s in it?”

“Because it’s none of your business!”

Janice threw her hands up. “Sir, I can’t send a package that is moving on its own, especially when I don’t know the contents. You’ll have to go somewhere else.”

He got on tip-toes and peered over her head, squinting as if he could see through the wall behind her. “Where’s your manager?”

“I am the manager of this branch, and I’m telling you to take your business elsewhere. Next!”

He slammed his fist down on the counter, and the wooden paneling creaked. But when he opened his mouth to shout at her, all Janice heard was a scuffling noise, and a muffled crackle. After a second, she realized it wasn’t coming from him, but from the box. She pushed it toward the pale man — apparently, he had been distracted from his impending tirade by the noises.

“Just take it!” He pushed it back towards Janice and bolted. Each customer in line watched him as he passed, their heads turning one after the other like falling dominoes.

Cautiously, Janice placed the package on a shelf below the counter. It was still in plain view, but wouldn’t get in the way of her job.

The crackling noises continued throughout her shift, but the post office was busy, and she couldn’t attend to it. Her concerns about the shifting package were subsumed in day-to-day problems, like the coffee she spilled on her powder-blue blouse at lunch and the new employee who couldn’t work the computer.

Only when 5 o’clock rolled around and the last customer had been sweet-talked out of the office did Janice have time to consider the mystery package.

“What’re you gonna do with it?” asked Tom, the sandy-haired new guy. He poked at the box, and jumped when it shifted towards him.

“It might be a puppy,” Sheila said longingly, looking over Janice’s shoulder. “Oh, poor puppy, shut up in that box all day!”

“I’ll figure something out. Sheila, if it’s a puppy, I’ll take it to a shelter. You guys can head home whenever; I still need to lock up.”

Tom left almost immediately. Sheila lingered, obviously hoping that a cocker-spaniel puppy would pop from the cardboard box. But when Janice came back to the counter after locking the safe in the back, she was gone, too.

The Postal Operations Handbook only stated that “any packages abandoned without proper mailing labels or postage are to be discarded.” Janice felt morally obligated to open the package before throwing it away, though — what if it really was a puppy?

While she hunted for a pair of scissors, she heard a loud crack. Like an eggshell breaking, she thought, but that made no sense. Then there was a loud shriek that made her turn and eye the box.

Animal Control. She’d call Animal Control.

The package erupted in flame. Janice screamed, grabbing onto the counter’s edge with one hand.

When the smoke and flame cleared, she could hear a soft click-click on the tile. Her dark hair whipped around her face as she looked around for the source of the noise.

Small, dark, and strangely shaped, the creature clacked its way toward her from the other end of the space behind the counter.

She really wished she had found those scissors, or at least a letter opener.

The creature arrived at her feet, looked up at her, and made a happy chirping noise. It reached up tiny, scaly arms, wings unfurling a bit. Momentarily stunned by this development, Janice stared until the thing made another noise, more plaintive this time.

Crouching, she examined it.

“Are you a dragon?” she asked it, voice shaking. “Somebody was trying to mail a dragon?”

It listened attentively to the sound of her voice, or at least it seemed to. When she was done speaking, it slowly reached a clawed — hand? — towards her, chirping uncertainly.

“Please don’t bite me,” she said, reaching her own hand out and stroking the top of its head. The little dragon-thing rubbed against her hand like a cat.

Now what? She couldn’t just leave a dragon in the post office. But she couldn’t leave it outside, either, and what shelter would take it? Did veterinarians know about dragons? Would they even take care of the creature?

There had to be someone, somewhere, who knew about this stuff. The box that had held the dragon was reduced to ash, now, so she couldn’t use any information the address might have given. Janice twirled her hair around one finger thoughtfully, other hand still petting her tiny companion. After a long moment, she sighed.

“Okay, you’re coming with me until I can figure out what to do with you.” Slowly, she managed to get a handhold on the tiny reptile and lift it up. It squirmed in her arms for a moment, then settled with its head on her shoulder.

Lynne Fort works in the business-to-business publishing industry and loves food, reading, and writing. She hopes to one day make a career as a writer.

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