Clarence dug in her pocket, pulling out a handful of change. She dropped it into the dish on the side table, pausing when a penny bounced out, rolled off the table, and landed on the floor. She considered it for a moment, then walked further into the apartment. Dropped pennies had been going missing for weeks. Clarence had some kind of little visitor that was collecting her coins.
Clarence walked into the kitchen and fixed herself a sandwich, then sat down at the table. She angled her chair so she could watch the penny under the table while she ate. As expected, she had no bites while she ate. (Heh.)
She mulled the problem over as she dropped onto the couch, still keeping an ear open for the sounds of any small creature that might want a spare coin. Clarence clicked on the tv. She paid little attention as she tried to figure out how to find and capture the critter. Mousetraps were the standard, weren’t they? While Clarence doubted that a mouse was taking her coins, she might as well try it. Mind made up, Clarence started to pay attention to the TV. She would buy mouse traps while she was out tomorrow.
Clarence came in and closed the door behind her, hand already in her pocket to empty it of change. She pulled it out to empty into the bowl, and stopped. The penny under the table was gone. While Clarence had been at work, her little visitor had returned. With a sigh, she emptied her fistful of coins into the bowl and continued on, setting the bag from the dollar store on the counter. Maybe these mouse traps would do the trick. She pulled them out and turned them over to read the packaging. They were cheap wooden boards with springs that would snap metal bars down when triggered, killing the critter. Clarence grimaced, and opened the package. She hoped her intruder wasn’t anything bigger than a mouse, she didn’t like killing woodland animals. She set a trap under the side table in the entrance with a penny as bait. As an afterthought, she set a bit of beef jerky for bait on a trap in the kitchen. She was out of cheese.
Clarence went to bed that night with a smile. Come morning her pocket change would be safe.
In the morning, the traps were untouched. Clarence went to work, already anticipating her return home that evening.
Clarence slammed her door open when she got home that evening. A hooligan on a bike had almost bowled her over on her walk up the sidewalk, splashing her when he rode through a puddle. He hadn’t apologized, even when she hollered after him (and shook her fist). She stomped her way into the bathroom for towel, and dried her face off. She calmed slightly, and excited the bathroom. Then she saw the mouse trap under the entrance table. The penny was gone, but there was no mouse in the trap. She walked over and kneeled down to investigate. A toothpick was caught in the trap, broken, but that was it. Clarence picked up the trap and checked the trap in the kitchen. It was the same. A broken toothpick lay in the trap, but there was no jerky and no mouse- not even a whisker. Clarence’s eyes narrowed as she stared at the trap. It was a matter of principle, now. She had been thwarted once, but it would not happen again. But what manner of home-invading critter used toothpicks? She pulled out her phone to do a little research.
After a lot of reading (and a lot of cute animal videos), Clarence was fairly certain that her visitor was a crow, or a raven, or some other kind of bird. They liked shiny things, were smart enough to use tools in some cases, and probably got in through one of her windows. That was easy enough to fix. Before she went to bed, Clarence locked all of her windows, and put a bit of flour on the sils so she would know if they were disturbed. For good measure she dropped a penny by the couch, in clear view of the kitchen window. She was fairly certain she had solved her invader problem, but one could never be too certain. Clarence went to bed.
The penny and window sills were untouched come morning, but that meant little. Clarence’s critter usually came during the day, while she was at work. She left the apartment with fingers crossed.
Clarence came home casually. She had solved the problem, there was nothing to anticipate at home. The penny would be right where she left- the penny was gone. Clarence checked all the window latches and sills in a rush around the apartment, but nothing was disturbed. The flour was exactly as she left it, no marks or trails. The windows were all still locked. Only the penny was missing. Clarence sank into her couch, at a loss. How was the little fucker getting in? Clarence went to bed that night scheming elaborate traps.
Clarence came home the next day with a spool of twine and a tube of glue. She set both on the counter and made a snack. It was just salsa and chips, and she ate quickly in anticipation of the trap that she was about to set. First, she cut off a foot of twine. She threaded it through the hole in the spool of twine and got onto the floor to tie it to the foot of the table. Clarence tugged on the twine on the spool. A little bit unraveled, but the spool didn’t roll away, merely rotating where it was tied. This done, Clarence got up and got the glue and a penny. She glued the end of the twine onto the back of the penny, then set it on the floor. This way, when the critter took the penny, it would unwittingly leave a trail of twine to wherever it was getting in. Clarence surveyed her work a tad smugly. Human intellect would win in the end. She went to bed thinking of mazes of string, and the prize at the end.
Clarence came home from work expecting string laid in an exact trail, leading her directing to the culprit. What she got was string that went out two feet and had a burnt end. The penny was gone. She slammed the door shut and stalked over to investigate further. The string led towards the living room, but it only went out two feet. She still didn’t know where the critter was getting in. The fact that the end of the string was burnt, though, that was odd. Clarence didn’t think any birds used fire, or carried sources of fire around. Even if a bird did carry a lighter around, it would have had to leave it behind in order to take the penny with it. Clarence plopped her butt onto the ground. Was a person taking her pennies? Was some dedicated creeper breaking in every day, only to take pennies off the ground? Nothing else was being touched, she was sure of it. None of her valuables were being taken. Hell, none of her change from the dish in the entrance had been touched. It was only stray pennies on the floor. Who on earth was coming in here every day??
Clarence sat on the couch cross-legged, thinking. After a few minutes, she had an idea. It was messy….but she was desperate. This puzzle was driving Clarence insane. Giving up at this point was unthinkable. She could outsmart a creeper, a crow, or a fucking leprechaun if she had to.
The next morning, Clarence carefully spread a thin layer of flour on her floor in the living room and kitchen. Under the table she left a small pile of pennies. Then she left. She had errands to run, and the critter wouldn’t come out when she was home.
Clarence shopped as slowly as possible, even though all she wanted was to run home. She even stopped at the library to pick up some books. Even if she was thrumming with impatience, she had to give it time. Finally, after a very long, very late lunch, she went home. She crossed her fingers as she opened the door to her apartment. (Please let there be a trail, please let there be a trail.) Clarence opened the door slowly, cautiously. She didn’t want a breeze from slamming open the door to disturb the evidence. She stepped in, eagerly scanning the flour-dusted floor.
There. A narrow line of four-toed tracks led straight from under the couch to under the table, where the penny pile used to be. The tracks circled around the spot, and there were scuff marks and lines drawn in the flour. Aside from that, though, the tracks just led right back under the couch. Clarence was nearly holding her breath with anticipation. It was under the couch. She crossed the room quickly, and pushed the couch to the side. There was a hole in the wall. The wallpaper was torn, and a sad flap lay on the ground, still connected at the bottom. Clarence kneeled down to put her eye to the hole, but she couldn’t see anything aside from a narrow tunnel that looked like it went quite a way.
Clarence stood up, dusted her kneels off, and surveyed the room. There was flour everywhere. She checked her phone. It was only 4:00 PM. She had plenty of time to go buy a live trap. But first, she had to sweep.
That night, after sweeping up all the flour and going shopping again, Clarence pushed the couch back into place. She set up the live trap in the kitchen, sandwiched between the garbage and the counter to make it look more natural. She filled the back with a pile of pennies.
Clarence didn’t have anything to do on Sunday, but she needed to get out of the house. If she stayed, she would do nothing but think about the hole in the wall, and the trap she had set. So Clarence decided to go to a county park and take the hiking trails. That would occupy for her for most of the day.
When Clarence came home that day, she paused in the entryway. She didn’t hear anything, but surely the trap had worked. She walked into the kitchen without even taking her coat off, and peered into the gap between the garbage can and the counter where her live trap was. The door on the live trap was closed. She had caught something. And sure enough, pressed against the back wall of the mesh cage, she could see a little lizard. It was half hidden by the pile pennies, which it had gathered around itself. Clarence whooped and punched at the air a few times. She caught it! She caught the little thief. Now she could live a life of careless penny dropping once more, safe in the knowledge that they would still be on the floor for her to pick up again when she got tired of seeing them lying around. All she had to do was get rid of the lizard. Clarence picked up the cage by the handle on top, careful to keep her fingers away from the mesh top so that the lizard wouldn’t be able to bite her. She was surprised, however, when the lizard gave a little shriek and spit fire at her, burning her fingers. Clarence dropped the cage with a curse, and ran to the sink to put her fingers under water. She was shaking with adrenaline now, and when she turned to look at the cage again she saw that the lizard was facing her now, back arched, wings flared.
“What. The. Fuck.”
Clarence sat a few feet away from the live trap, considering the tiny dragon she had caught. (What do you do with a miniature mythical beast.)
Was it a baby?? Would it grow into a full size dragon. Why was it taking her pennies??
“Ok,” Clarence said, laying down on her belly so that her face was level with the dragon. “So you’ve been stealing my pennies.” The dragon blinked. “And you live in a hole in my wall,” Clarence continued, “And you can breathe fire, because you are literally a dragon.” The dragon nodded.
Clarence blinked, then slammed her hands on the ground next to her. “Can you understand me??” She demanded. The dragon flinched at the movement and sound, but nodded again. Clarence rolled onto her back and covered her face with her hands.
“I can’t deal with this,” she muttered. “I can’t deal with sentient dragons that want my pocket change. That’s crazy. I’m going crazy.” Clarence craned her neck to check if the dragon was still there. It was. It was sitting calmly now, tail curled around its feet like a cat. When it caught her eye, it snorted a puff of smoke. Clarence moved her head back so fast she got a crick in her neck. She dragged her hands over her face again, then rolled back onto her belly and faced the dragon. She could deal with dragons, no big deal. Maybe, she thought a tad wildly, she would find tiny mermaids in the shower tomorrow. She could keep them in a fish tank. They could sing karaoke together. Back to the dragon.
“On a scale of one to ten, how much death and destruction do you intend to cause?” She asked it seriously. The dragon didn’t move. Clarence sighed, and held her fingers half an inch apart. “This is much trouble?” She moved hands far apart. “Or this much trouble?” The dragon held up a paw and pinched two claws close together.
“Okay. Not much trouble. That’s...good. Probably.” Clarence rubbed her hands together. Her stomach rumbled. Clarence looked at the dragon. “Are you hungry?” The dragon nodded. Clarence stood up. “I’ll make some hot dogs.” She looked down and considered the dragon at her feet. “Would you be ok with me moving you to the counter?” The dragon looked up and where she was pointing, and nodded. Clarence stooped to pick up the cage. “Ok. Don’t breathe fire at me. I’ll drop you.” she warned it. She moved the cage carefully, not wanting to jostle the dragon. Then she microwaved some hot dogs. She cut one up and carefully dropped the pieces through the mesh ceiling. She considered the dragon as they both ate. She couldn’t keep the dragon in the cage forever. It would have to go to the bathroom, for one thing. Could it be trusted to be let out, though? It appeared to have been living with her for months, and it had never attacked her until she caught it. Maybe she could just...let it go? Leave it pennies occasionally? Now that she knew it was a tiny dragon taking her pennies, she was a lot more ok with losing the few cents. Clarence finished eating before the dragon, and watched it while it ate the last few pieces. Clarence took a deep breath.
“Ok,” she said, “I’ll let you out now, so...don’t attack me.” The dragon nodded as Clarence moved to hold the door on the end of the cage open, allowing it to step out. They regarded each other, human and tiny dragon on the counter. “You can stay here still,” Clarence blurted out. “I won’t, like, tell anyone about you or trap you or anything anymore. You can have pennies I find on the ground outside.” The dragon watched her for a second, not moving, then gave a little yip, butting its head against her hand where it was resting on the counter. It stretched out its tiny wings and climbed over her arm to jump off the counter, gliding down to the floor in the living room. Clarence watched, mouth agape.
“I live with a dragon,” she muttered to herself. “I have a tiny dragon roommate.” Clarence pinched the bridge of her nose and moved to sit on the couch. She flicked on some mindless television, and said nothing when the dragon clawed its way up the couch to perch on the arm and watch with her. She could return the live cage after work tomorrow. For now...Clarence relaxed.