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Strawberry Thief

By Rosemary E. Johnson

Cennet cracked one eye open. Her lace curtains fluttered in the cool breeze coming through the open window. Early morning light warmed her face.

And a munching sound came from her garden.

Whipping off her blanket, Cennet hurried outside. Her slippers slapped on the stepping stones. Sure enough, for the third morning in a row, the dragon smacked its lips and swallowed a juicy red berry in her freshly-weeded strawberry patch.

“Blasted pest.” Cennet waved her arms. She was too old for this. “Shoo!”

The squirrel-sized dragon blinked its yellow eyes, tongue sliding out the side of its mouth to snag another strawberry. At this rate, the entire harvest would become a dragon snack.

“Insufferable nuisance. Get out of here.” She lobbed a handful of pebbles at it, and the creature scampered into the bushes surrounding her beautiful garden. Before the little menace disappeared, it looked over its shoulder and winked, as if to say, “I’ll be back.”

Cennet sighed.

She shuffled inside to brew her tea, hips protesting the chill morning air. While the pungent leaves seeped, she buttered a slice of toast and plotted.

She’d never encountered such a pest. Rogue garden gnomes? No problem—the wizard next door made fantastic gnome repellent pouches. Clever gophers? Piece of cake—use raised garden beds and extra mulch. Pesky birds? Nothing doing—hang shiny tinsel.

Inhaling homegrown peppermint, Cennet took a sip of her tea. Perhaps the dragon should be treated like any similar sized rodent: a trap. Then she could relocate it and tend her garden in peace.

The hardware store had a fine animal trap, and Cennet carefully baited it with three shiny, perfect strawberries.

The next morning, she marched outside to find the trap sprung, the bait gone, and a self-satisfied dragon licking its lips on top of the trap.

Hands on her hips, Cennet scowled at the little beast.

It wrinkled its snout back.

“Shoo! Begone! Go away!” She chucked more pebbles at the scallywag, and it scuttled off. Her shoulders slumped. Time for another cup of tea.

She was halfway through her second cup when she thought of the solution. Back when big dragons roamed the countryside, burning villages and kidnapping maidens, they searched for gold and riches to hoard. Maybe if she gave this one some coins and baubles, it’d go away.

So she picked the shiniest pennies from her purse, found some sparkly jewelry (and a cute new blouse for herself) at a rummage sale, and piled them in the strawberry patch with a silk ribbon.

She set her tea to steep the next morning before venturing to the garden. She grinned. The “treasure” was gone! Then, a quiet clacking sound came from her hollyhocks. There, snuggled between the stems, was the dragon. It had hollowed a nest, lined with soft grass, and curled inside with the treasure. It gnawed on a penny and blinked like a happy kitten.

Cennet trudged indoors. No use shooing it, she’d never be rid of the interloper now that it had settled in. She slumped at the table and pushed her tea away.

Something exploded next door. After peering out the window to verify that Alvis the wizard’s house was, indeed, unharmed (it usually was), Cennet dressed and hurried over.

Alvis answered her knock in his typical bare feet, yoga pants, and science pun T-shirt. His glasses were askew, his hair ruffled, and he clutched a mug of “coffee” in his hand. She’d tried it once. He brewed it so black it had the consistency of gruel. “I’m rather busy… Oh, hello, Cennet.”

“Hello.” As soon as he stepped aside to let her in, she bustled past and moved a stack of books off a chair so she could sit. “I have a question.”

Alvis didn’t bother moving the papers on his own chair before sitting. Perhaps he didn’t even notice them. He was probably thinking of whatever he’d blown up, the poor lamb. At least he wasn’t hurt. “Ask away.”

“How do I get rid of a little dragon that keeps raiding my garden? I’ve tried traps and bribing it with baubles, but neither has worked. I confess, I’m at a loss. Dragons of any sort have been rare for so long.”

Alvis hummed and sipped his coffee. “Is it doing much damage?”

“Well…” Cennet fiddled with one of Alvis’s books. “It snacks on my berries and vegetables, and it made a nest in my hollyhocks.”

“Have you tried befriending it?”

Cennet raised an eyebrow. “No…”

“If it’s not hurting anything, maybe it’d be better to keep it around. I’m sure it’d be useful in keeping other pests away.” He peered at her over his mug. “By the way, how’s the gnome problem?”

“Oh, they haven’t been around in months, thank you.” Cennet smiled. “I’ll try what you suggest. I just hope it doesn’t bite.”

Alvis nodded, searching before finally finding his glasses on his head and slipping them onto his nose. “Let me know how it goes. Now if you’ll excuse me…” He disappeared into another room.

Smiling, Cennet showed herself out. At home, she rummaged in her pantry until she found the last slice of blackberry pie. She cut a sliver, placed it on a plate, and headed to her little metal outdoor table. She hadn’t been there five minutes when the dragon poked its head from its nest, nostrils flaring. It scuttled to the table, climbed up, and sniffed at the plate.

“I’ll call you Strawberry, I think.” Cennet motioned toward the pie. “Help yourself.”

The dragon, or rather, Strawberry, gave the pie a lick then devoured the whole slice. Once finished, it crawled into her lap and wrapped its tail about its legs.

Cennet stroked its leathery skin. “I’ll give you a home and proper food, and you keep the real pests away. Deal?”

Strawberry gave a trilling chirrup.

Cennet took that for a “yes.”

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Rosemary E. Johnson lives in Northern CA with her firefighter hubby, their 3 month old nerdling, and two cats. When she’s not reading, writing or worldbuilding, she enjoys crocheting and taking hikes. Her favorite stories have dragons in them. She has several stories published with Havok and works as a submissions coordinator for them.

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