Coffee cup rings were the most consistent adornment of his tiny desk, shoved into the corner of the spare room. It wasn’t much, but it was his. On some days it didn’t feel like much to him either, but most days it was his salvation.
It had enough room for his portable angled drawing board, some markers, water colors, a laptop if he moved all of that. The door was always closed when he worked, and his kids had learned to not knock if it was. They wouldn’t get an answer. Sometimes it was because his head phones were covering his ears. Sometimes it was because he didn’t want to lose the idea that was taking form under his pen or paintbrush. His ideas littered the floor, the half forgotten ones, and the ones that didn’t stick to the page. Those dripped down the legs
of his desk in their watery pastel colors. The ones that stuck, that came to life, those peeked out from behind his desk lamp and underneath his sketchbook.
He hadn’t believed it the first time he saw it happen. He had named it Duncan. It was the first one he’d really known. He’d worked so long on the little guy until he knew every inch of him, from the way his scales and spots fell together to the angle of his teeth and his claws. But there was more to Duncan than that. His teeth were sharp and had drawn blood from Michael’s hand more than a few times, but it was never intentional. It was always in play, a little rougher than Michael had meant, but Duncan could be hard to control. Most of the time Duncan swung his legs from the bent neck of Michael’s desk lamp, watching from above to see if he was going to get a new friend tonight, or if what flowed from the pencil would remain just a picture. Every week or so Duncan would get a friend or a sister, and eventually Michael’s desk was becoming cluttered and hard to work at. He tried moving them to a box, gave them their own home and everything, but something didn’t feel right. One night Duncan was sitting on the neck of the lamp like usual, but he didn’t seem quite himself.
“Hey, you okay?” Michael asked, leaning back from the drawing that was only half done but already beginning to twitch to life on the page. It was making it very hard to finish its shading, and he needed a break from telling it to sit still. Duncan shrugged listlessly. “Come on, what’s up. You guys don’t seem to be doing so great lately.”
Duncan just shrugged again. Michael sipped his coffee and waited. He did this with his son Darren. Darren was eight and had begun to develop a temper. Michael knew he couldn’t control it yet, and would sit down with him and wait for him to be willing to talk about it. Sometimes that took a while. Duncan sighed.
“We’re bored.” Answered finally. Michael nodded. “Its not that you haven’t given us friends and our life, and its great, but. . . . “ Duncan trailed off and avoided Michael’s eyes over the rim of the coffee cup. “But what?” Quietly, almost so softly that he couldn’t hear, Duncan said “But where did we come from?” Michael blinked. “What?” he asked, caught off guard. Duncan answered “You leave every night, and we know you go places and you pick up the pieces to make us when you’re gone, but we don’t know where that is. We don’t know what you do. There must be some really interesting stuff out there to make us out of it, but in here its just.” he ended his sentence with another shrug. A knock on the door interrupted them. It was timid and close to the floor. Probably Celia, Michael’s daughter. There were hushed whispers and a quiet “No, no, no, daddy doesn’t want to be disturbed.” from outside the door. Michael glanced at Duncan, who was looking at the door with a sad longing on his watercolor face. The sound of the children on the other side moved away and his shoulders slumped.
“I guess I didn’t think about that.” admitted Michael. “You were always. . . mine. I don’t want you to get lost out there. There’s just. . . a lot that can happen.”
Duncan nodded sagely, which is hard for someone only 5 inches tall.
“But we only have so much in here. We’re already splitting food and where we sleep. We get sick more often, and you don’t pay attention like you used to. There’s too many of us, and not enough of you.” Michael’s forehead creased in worry. “But if you let us out, there’d be more people to take care of us. I could meet Darren.” Duncan smiled sadly and cast a short glance towards the door. There was a knot in Michael’s throat. If he let them out, they might leave forever. He might never see them again. He looked in the box, at all of his ideas leaned against the edges, kept for his eyes only. They were looking lackluster and tired. Maybe Duncan was right.
“I can’t let you out in to the world yet, you’re just not ready.” The smile on Duncan’s face faded and he nodded. “Okay.” “But we can start.” Michael stood, crossed the room and opened the door. “Dad?” Darren and Celia were playing at the end of the hall and looked up from their toys when the door had opened. Michael glanced at Duncan, lightly silhouetted by the desk lamp, his white-green eyes almost glowing in the darkness, wide and waiting. “Come in here guys, I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”
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