Cosmo is a small red dragon who is being raised by a foster mother in this world so that he will have an understanding of human culture, making it easier for dragons and humans to interact in the future. He is mentally about four years old, but he is a red, scaly four year old who can fly and doesn’t always have the best of control over his fire. For all his differences, Cosmo is still a child, and his adventures at Christmas time with his foster mother and the Door to other worlds that is anchored in their home will keep you laughing. This story first appeared on my old blog, Wolf Dreams, in 2008. And now, with no further ado,
CHRISTMAS WITH COSMO
I put down my knitting and looked up just in time to see Cosmo glide into the room with a set of paper antlers on his head and a blob of red clay attached to his scaly red snout.
“Look at me! I’m Rudolf!” he squealed as he crash-landed on the floor beside me.
We had been talking about Christmas quite a bit. Last year we had been gone for the pre-Christmas season, captives of a power-hungry red dragon group on Cosmo’s home world. We had come home just in time for a huge Christmas party on Christmas Eve, but Cosmo had missed all the build-up to the big day. But then, his English had been almost non-existent then, too, so stories about Santa Claus and reindeer and so forth would have gone right by him. This year though, he had all of the joyous enthusiasm and excitement about the day of any small human child. He was just bigger, scalier, and had wings and fire on board. An excited Cosmo was a sight to behold.
“Do you think I could help Santa with his sleigh, huh?” Cosmo bounced around me in circles, knocking my yarn under the sofa with his tail.
“Now Cosmo, you know that Santa only comes after you’re asleep. Besides, I think having a dragon flying with them might scare the reindeer, don’t you?”
“But I promise I wouldn’t eat them! Really, I wouldn’t!”
“The reindeer have been doing their jobs for a long time. I don’t think they’ll need any help.” I thought fast. I needed something to distract him or he’d keep on about flying with the reindeer all morning. “Popcorn balls! Let’s make some red and green popcorn balls, Cosmo! Then we can wrap them up and give them to people when they come to visit!” Cosmo’s clawed hands were deft enough to make popcorn balls and he loved to help me cook. He didn’t even answer – he just ran to the kitchen of my little apartment and started rummaging in the cupboards for ingredients.
The popcorn balls – and gluing together and putting up miles of paper chains in the huge front room of the main hall of the mansion, and mixing cookie dough, and looking at the trees in the woods at the back of the lawn to see if one would be a good Christmas tree, and…well, you get the picture – took up the rest of the day. By evening, I was exhausted and Cosmo was still going on and on and on. I finally sent him to his playroom for a while after three Christmas stories and a promise that we’d watch Christmas movies later and then collapsed on my sofa with Isadore the cat.
I heard a knock on my kitchen door and an few minutes later, my friend Jon came in with snow still clinging to his hat and coat.
“Snow. Well, that’ll just fan the flames some more. Literally. Cosmo was so excited today that he burned up a whole strip of paper chains trying to get the paste to dry faster so he could hang them. He tried to pop the popcorn with his flames, and then he tried to cook the cookie dough by himself, too. By the way, I need a new fire extinguisher. That dragon is so excited about Christmas…”
Jon was doubled over, laughing. “Well, you know his parents want him raised as much like a human child as a dragon so he’ll be a good liaison when he grows up, so…”
“He’s just like an over-excited four year-old. It’s amazing. And exhausting. You didn’t happen to bring anything like beer with you, did you? Or something to put in eggnog?”
“Better than that. I brought a baby sitter. You and I are going out.” Florence, my former neighbor, poked her head around the corner and smiled at me.
“You are more welcome than Santa right now, Florence.” I turned to Jon. “I’ll get my coat.” Cosmo heard the voices and bounced back out, delighted with the company. He offered everyone slightly singed red and green popcorn balls.
We left Florence and Cosmo ensconced on the sofa with a pile of Christmas books – all of the ones I had plus a bunch that Florence had brought with her.
The evening out with Jon was just what I needed. Adult company and conversation restored me and I came home ready to face whatever the morrow would bring – fire, flood or overexcited dragon. Florence, on the other hand, looked ready for bed. Her silver hair was frazzled, she was clutching convulsively at her crochet project, and she had a small burn on the skirt of her dress.
She waved off our expressions of concern and apologies. “I know Cosmo, and I knew full well what I was getting into. Don’t worry. I always wear old clothes when I watch Cosmo. He just wanted to melt his name in the snow with his flames. He’s gotten very good with the C and the O’s,” she added proudly. Well, that explained the puddle of icy slush outside the back door, anyway. It should be a real skating rink by morning. On the other hand, ice sliding was always fun for Cosmo and would wear him out nicely.
As she accompanied Jon out, Florence paused and dug around in her big bag. “Hold on – here’s a book that Cosmo really enjoyed. I must have read it to him five times tonight. Why don’t you hang on to it? It’s all about Santa’s elves.” I thanked her, put the book on the kitchen table and went to bed.
The next morning, Cosmo was a bit distracted. I figured he was thinking about which tree we would cut when Jon and Rob came over later. Some of our dragon friends were due to arrive later in the day as well, which might have been on his mind. We read the elf book another three or four times and I took him outside to slide on the ice by the back door, but I could see that his heart wasn’t really in it.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes. I’m fine. Can I go play now?” Cosmo asked. “I have a, a Christmas project I need to work on.”
That explained it. He had a Christmas surprise in the works. “Sure, Cosmo. Let me know if you need help. And no using your flames if there’s not a grownup around to put out the fire!” I reminded him as he kited off at top speed for his mostly flame-resistant playroom.
Throughout the morning I heard various noises coming from Cosmo’s playroom accompanied by the sorts of swear words that Cosmo was allowed to use – things like darn and shucks. I almost went to see what was going on, but restrained myself. If Cosmo wanted my help, he’d ask for it. At lunch he turned up looking frustrated and poked at his food. He trudged off after lunch, still looking irritated. I shook my head and finished the cleanup. If he was going to be occupied I could finish the socks I was knitting Jon for Christmas. One ear open for Cosmo, I sat contentedly with my wool in my hands.
Half an hour later, I could hear him talking happily and chuckling. Good, I thought. He’s had some sort of success.
Cosmo was happily occupied until the guys came to cut the tree in the late afternoon. He was careful to close the door to his playroom when he came out to help, though. Jon, Rob and I hid our smiles.
We found the huge tree we wanted for the big front hall quickly and then got another, smaller one for my apartment. Dragging the trees home through the snowy twilight was a moment from a Christmas card – if you like the fantasy kind of card with lovely red dragons in them; I know I do. The trees were quickly set up – the big one only fell over twice while it was being secured in its stand, once with the help of Cosmo who was playing at being the angel on top of the tree. Then we retired to my apartment to have dinner and wait for our dragon guests to arrive for our tree-trimming party. When the Door – which accessed other worlds rather than the outside of the house – announced the arrival of our visitors, Cosmo tore off to greet them.
“Wait up, you! You know you aren’t allowed to open the Door by yourself!” I called after him.
He was pouting when I caught up to him by the door. “But I know how to use the security stuff,” he grumbled. “See, when it’s green, it’s a safe world. And if you look through here,” he bounced up using his wings for lift and looked through the peep-hole, “you can sort of see who’s there.” The peep-hole was new, and the image was sent magically from the other side of the Door. But it wasn’t very clear and certainly wasn’t infallible and I told Cosmo so.
“So don’t think you’re allowed to open the door even if you think it’s safe. Period.” I glared at the small red dragon as I opened the door for our friends. Cosmo’s grumpiness evaporated as our guests came in and the tree trimming started.
The next morning, my alarm didn’t go off. Since I really didn’t have any plans, I wasn’t too upset about this, but I did remember setting it the night before. But then the stove didn’t want to turn on when I went to fix breakfast and the jelly had spilled all over the inside of the fridge. Of course it had been on the top shelf and had dripped all the way down each shelf before puddling in a sticky mess at the bottom. I was trying to clean it up with a dishrag when Cosmo came slamming into the kitchen, ramming the refrigerator door into my back as he came in.
“Hey! Calm down. Breakfast is late. My alarm didn’t go off, and the stove isn’t working for some reason. If you’re that hungry, get some cold cereal,” I told him, rubbing my back. He continued to grumble, and seemed to be looking for something. “The cereal’s in the cupboard. You know where we keep it. Come on, Cosmo. Stop acting like this.”
He got some cereal while I finished getting the mess out of the fridge. The jelly had congealed literally overnight and I was soon contemplating atomic cleansers. By the time I was done, Cosmo was gone, leaving a mess of cereal on the table. At least he’d put the rest of his stuff in the sink. I stared at the stove, wondering what to do. When you live with a dragon and a magic inter-dimensional Door you can’t exactly call your average repair service. I poked at the knobs one last time and to my surprise, the thing came on. Now that was strange, I thought, but the intricacies of appliances are not my strong suit. I was just glad it was working again.
Cosmo was busy and very distracted all morning. He refused my offers to read to him, or make cookies, or do any of the other Christmassy things I could think of. His cardboard antlers remained abandoned in the middle of my sofa, and I could hear him roaming all over the house all morning.
After I finished my morning chores, I sat down to knit on those socks again. To my dismay, the yarn was tangled mess, overflowing my basket and winding around the furniture legs. I glared at my cat, Isadore, who was curled on top of the bookcase. “Isadore, what got into you?” I asked. He gave me an affronted look and jumped down, stalking out of the room with his tail in the air.
I shook my head and untangled the yarn. Then I rummaged around trying to find the knitting needle that was missing from the socks. It turned out to be wedged in the seat of my chair – I found it when it stuck into my hand. Grumbling and sucking on my bleeding hand, I went to find a band-aid.
When I came back into the room, Cosmo was peering under the sofa. “What are you looking for, Cosmo?” I asked.
“I just lost something, that’s all,” he muttered.
“It seems to be going around,” I told him. It had taken me forever to find the box of band-aids that I clearly remembered putting back on the shelf in the bathroom day before yesterday. I reached over to the sofa and grabbed his cardboard antlers. “Here are your antlers, anyway. Why don’t you go and play Rudolf again?” I suggested, putting the antlers on his scaly red head.
He nodded reluctantly and left the room slowly, looking around him the entire time.
He was up to something, but I had no idea what.
All day long I lost things, things didn’t work, and I found messes where there shouldn’t be any. Cosmo and the cat were both in my bad books by the time my employer, Thomas, showed up in the evening. He was here for the Christmas holidays, and I was delighted to see him. Not only was he my employer and a friend, he was a powerful magic wielder. And Cosmo adored him. He could help keep the little stinker out of trouble for a few days. Maybe he could even figure out what Cosmo was up to.
Thomas had a lot of luggage with him, and I could see brightly wrapped packages peeking from a bag. He smiled and placed them under the tree. Thomas’ gifts from all sorts of worlds were always a huge hit with everyone. “Now, where’s Cosmo?” he asked. “He asked me for some help with his shopping…” Cosmo edged around the corner of the door and then soared over to Thomas, knocking him over and landing on top of him. I happily left the two of them and returned to the baking that Thomas’ arrival had interrupted. As an afterthought, I grabbed Isadore the cat and dumped him in the room with them, shutting the door firmly between myself and the lot of them.
That night, after Cosmo was in bed, I complained about the day to Thomas. “It was one long fiasco, all day long. I think I used half a box of band-aids and most of a bottle of cleaning stuff! It was just strange.” The CD player, which was sending out Christmas carols, emphasized this by suddenly stopping and then skipping four songs down the list before stopping again and taking up where it had left off before. I put my hands over my face. Thomas looked a little bit puzzled and very thoughtful.
The next morning, my alarm went off an hour early, and when Thomas came down for breakfast, he was shivering and looking quite put out. “Is the hot water heater on the fritz? Or did you use it all up in a marathon shower this morning?” he complained.
“No to both. Why?” I asked although the answer was apparent. “Besides, you know the guest part of the house has its own water heater. It was working yesterday, I know that. It came on too hot when I tried to wash up in one of the guest bathrooms and I scalded my hands.” I went back to scrambling eggs.
“I know. I’ll look at it later.” He sighed and sat down with some coffee. “Where’s the little guy this morning?”
“Not up yet, I guess. He’ll be down as soon as he smells the eggs, though.” But he wasn’t. When Thomas and I went to see why he wasn’t up yet, we found him huddled in his bed looking frightened.
“Ghosts! There were ghosts in my room all night!” he said, looking around him nervously.
“Cosmo, that was Halloween. This is Christmas,” I said.
Thomas just looked thoughtful again.
We took Cosmo down to breakfast and while he was eating, Thomas said, “Cosmo, I think you and I need to have a little talk.” Cosmo looked very scared at this, and began eating very, very slowly. When he finally finished, he fidgeted nervously in his chair. Thomas opened his mouth to start but before he could say anything there was a tremendous crash from the front hall. We all ran to see what could possibly have happened.
When we reached the front hall, we could see that half of the glass ornaments from the big tree were shattered on the floor at its base. The lights all over the tree were flashing on and off wildly, and the stereo began blaring Christmas carols at top volume.
Thomas looked at the spectacle, nodded, and said, “I think I know what the problem is. You have gremlins.”
“Gremlins?” I repeated.
“Yes, the traditional sort that get into machinery to make it malfunction and make messes everywhere. They are native to several of the dimensions the Door accesses. They aren’t really dangerous, but they are possibly one of the most annoying species to populate the known worlds.” Thomas grimaced. “And getting rid of them is a pain, too.” His gaze traveled to Cosmo, who burst into howls.
“I thought they were elves. They said they were. They said they were Santa’s elves and they would help me make Christmas for everyone! And then they disappeared and then stuff started going wrong and my playroom’s wrecked and you’re mad, and I thought they were elves, really I did! They looked like the pictures in my book and everything!”
“Cosmo,” I began firmly but quietly, “did you open the Door?”
Hiding his face, tears dripping off the end of his snout, he nodded. “I was trying to make Christmas stuff like Santa and the elves and I heard the Door. The security stuff said it was a safe world, and I looked and saw the elves, I mean gremlins. So I opened the Door to talk to them. They said they’d help me, really they did.”
Thomas sighed. “I thought as much. I’ll need to put a lock on the Door so that Cosmo can’t open it should he forget the rules again. In the meantime, I’ll make some gremlin traps and we’ll see if we can’t catch the little buggers before they do any more damage.”
The rest of the day was occupied with catching the gremlins and putting them in a containment area Thomas created. They did look surprisingly like the illustrations of Santa’s elves in Cosmo’s book, and I could see how a little dragon could be fooled. We didn’t say anything more to Cosmo about it; he looked as though he had learned his lesson. He was a sad little dragon.
Cosmo couldn’t remember how many gremlins he had let in, but by the end of the day we weren’t catching any more of them and the containment room was pretty full. Thomas said he’d take them back to their home world after Christmas. In the meantime, we just needed to keep them fed and out of our hair. Cosmo was strangely silent and resisted all of our efforts to cheer him up.
Then next day was Christmas Eve, when we had our big party for everyone we knew from all sorts of strange places. The Door bonged all day with guests arriving while the local guests arrived through my kitchen door; everyone came laden with bright packages. The party was wonderful and at midnight, while everyone was still having a grand time, the Door bonged once more. Thomas smiled and said, “That must be my special guest. Cosmo, come with me.” He led the way to the Door.
Moments later, I heard a loud, draconic squeal and Cosmo came charging back into the front hall. In his wake were Thomas and a large, bearded man with a red suit and a huge bag. “Santa, it’s Santa, he came, he came, even though I was bad and let in the gremlins, he came, he came…..” Cosmo didn’t even pause for breath.
As Santa began distributing the packages in his bag, an antlered Cosmo acting as his delivery dragon-reindeer, a noise from the tree attracted our attention. Sitting on the top branch of the big Christmas tree was one last gremlin, but even he was in the Christmas spirit – the lights on the tree lit up in a sequence that spelled out, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
Jane W. Wolfinbarger (c) 2011