Ava sat on the only clean swing in the park near her school, listening to her two friends argue. She wasn’t entirely sure what the subject of their disagreement was. They always found something to bicker over, and it usually went nowhere fairly quickly. She sighed.
“Shut uuuup,” she groaned, “Didn’t you say you had an idea for what to do tonight, or something? Spill it, Kev.” Ava knew that all she had to do was mention it, and he would completely switch gears. Kevin was like that.
As Ava predicted, Kevin immediately forgot about the argument. He took a moment to flick away a strand of dark brown hair before speaking. “Okay, so you guys know how the zoo near—” Kevin barely got started before he was interrupted by the other boy they were with, Erik.
“Really, Kev? The fucking zoo? That shit’s for little kids and old creeps, man.” Erik scoffed. Kevin took a breath in to fire off a retort, but Ava stopped him.
“Just let him finish, jackass. We’re bored as all hell anyway, might as well hear him out.” Ava lazily reached for the pack of cigarettes she usually kept in her jacket pocket, only to find it gone. Oh right. She had decided to quit after she collapsed during a PE class the day before.
“Thanks, Ava. Anyways, what I was trying to say is that my Uncle works as the night guard there, and he said he could get us in for a secret visit if we wanted. He says it’s a totally different world when no one else is there, man. Plus, we could pull some stupid shit and as long as we didn’t do any serious damage, he said he doesn’t give a crap! How dope is that?” Kevin was out of breath when he finished speaking. He had slightly bloodshot eyes, and sometimes Ava couldn’t help but wonder if he was high all the time. But, he also had a stupid, cheeky grin on his face. Ava and Erik exchanged a glance. With another sigh, Ava said,
“Fine. But if something better comes up before tonight, I’m doing that instead.” Kevin gave her a thumbs up in lieu of a response. Erik just shrugged. That was his equivalent of a yes. He could act like a tough, stoic, stereotypical scandinavian dude all he wanted, but Ava knew he was a softie. No amount of grunting and avoiding direct eye contact could hide the tiny smile on his face when he saw how happy Kevin was.
Ava hopped off of the swing, leaving it to sway back and forth behind her. She wished she could have done a bigger jump, but the stupid skirts that her school made the girls wear weren’t exactly designed with that in mind. The other two gave her a small wave as she strode out of the park and down the block toward her house.
“9 o’clock Ava! Be there or be square!” Kevin shouted over to her. She chuckled a bit to herself and gave him a thumbs up in return. She had to get out of her school uniform first. If she was going to trespass inside of a zoo at night, she wasn’t doing it in a white blouse and a skirt.
Clad in her signature tight fitting leather jacket, black jeggings and boots, Ava approached the security entrance to the zoo along with Kevin and Erik. Kevin was wearing a navy blue hoodie and cargo shorts, which did not do his lanky form any favors. Erik was wearing a baseball hat, bomber jacket, and an old, torn up pair of jeans, and they only served to accentuate his bulky figure. Ava had her dirty blonde hair tied up in a tight braid. She tucked a loose strand behind her ear as Kevin knocked on the door. A few seconds later, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Kevin, if he had been an alcoholic for twenty years, let us through.
“Thanks for the favor Uncle Bo. I owe ya one,” Kevin whispered with his trademark grin plastered across his face. The man grunted in response and ushered them inside, closing and locking the door behind them.
“Ya got two hours until my shift ends, kay? I don’t wanna hear no shit from Jacobs about how three delinquents were sneaking around on my watch.” He seemed annoyed just by the thought of whoever Jacobs was. The three teens all nodded back at him and he showed them the rest of the way inside.
The trio ended up spending the first hour wandering around aimlessly, until one sign on the reptile center caught Ava’s eye. It was a huge advertisement for an exclusive event or something. Probably had to do with the dragon everyone had been talking about for the past few years. It was hugely exciting, even to her, back when it was first announced and opened to the public. She remembered seeing the cute, dog-sized reptile playing around with a ball in one of the promotional videos for the exhibit.
“You guys wanna check that out? Maybe we can actually see the dragon in person for once.” Ava acted nonchalant, but she had a soft spot for cute animals. She had always wanted to see the dragon in person, but getting in to see it required either a lot of money or a lot of luck, and she had neither.
The other two shrugged. Despite what Kevin had said earlier about how “different and exciting” the zoo was at nighttime, most of the animals they had seen were asleep. They still followed Ava as she walked into the door of the reptile center, however.
They followed the signs leading towards the back of the center, to a space that was normally blocked off by staff who acted as bouncers for the dragon’s viewing area. Ava felt a bit giddy despite herself as they approached the exhibit. She knew there was a chance that the dragon would be asleep, but she hoped it would at least be visible.
What Ava was not expecting, however, was to see a breathtakingly beautiful girl huddled in the middle of the enclosure, staring directly at her.
Erik cursed, breaking Ava from her state of shock. Then, Ava noticed the girl’s condition. She had a thick collar around her neck, and the skin underneath the collar was raw and burnt, with what seemed like bloody scratch marks across it. She seemed to only be wearing an oversized t-shirt with a faded depiction of the zoo’s logo on it, though the shirt only reached down to her mid-thigh. She didn’t seem to be wearing any pants. Lastly, she had—were those horns? And a tail? No, it had to be cosplay or something. She was probably just some fan-girl who got overzealous and ended up stuck in the dragon’s enclosure for the night, right?
As Erik and Kevin were panicking in their own various ways, Ava came upon a moment of clarity.
“We need to help her.” Ava knew that no matter why or how the girl had ended up there, she was clearly distressed and badly injured. Erik and Kevin, on the other hand, looked at Ava like she was completely insane. Doing her best to ignore their incredulous expressions, Ava walked over and shook the handle to the entrance of the enclosure. It was locked, of course. Luckily Kevin had snagged a set of keys when his uncle wasn’t looking, just in case they wanted to get a closer look at something.
Kevin groaned. “We are so fucked dude.” Despite his complaints, he still handed the keys to Ava. Erik seemed to have more misgivings, but he chose not to voice them. They both knew that once Ava set her mind to something, there was nothing that they could do to keep her from doing it. She quickly unlocked the two doors they needed to pass through to enter the exhibit. She could only hope that the dragon within was either asleep or very nice.
Yuki was not asleep, and she definitely wasn’t feeling particularly nice at the moment. As the three humans entered her cage, she instinctively let out a low warning growl. She didn’t want to hurt the trio, but they had come at a very bad time and witnessed a form she was definitely not supposed to show visitors, let alone strange trespassers. However when the trio edged a bit closer into the beaming moonlight coming from the skylight above Yuki’s glass prison, she noticed that the girl who clearly appeared to be the leader had an expression of concern.
“Are you okay? You looked hurt, so we thought we should check on you. That, and you’re standing in the middle of a dragon’s habitat, which seems… a bit dangerous.” The girl had dirty blonde hair, grayish-blue eyes, and a small scar on her upper lip. Her voice was a bit scratchy, though Yuki was one to talk in that regard. Her own voice usually came out as a growl.
Yuki started to back away as the group continued to approach. Humans couldn’t be trusted. She knew that all too well. She growled again, this time louder than before. The humans paused. They appeared confused, though she wasn’t sure why.
“Was that a… growl?” The gangly boy in the back whispered. He was trying to be quiet, but that made no difference for Yuki’s ears.
As Yuki ran through possible ways out of the situation, her mind started to grow cloudy. She had lost a bit more blood than she thought she would, and the exhaustion from staying up for so long was not helping.
This was bad. Beyond bad. Not only had three strangers invaded Yuki’s enclosure, she was also on the brink of falling unconscious. But maybe…
Yuki didn’t get the chance to finish the thought. She collapsed where she stood, and there was only oblivion.