The rain was coming down – hard – in fat, wet droplets. Faster and faster they poured out of the magnificent, ominous grey clouds that canvased the sky overhead. Little waterfalls poured down each storefront’s rain gutters. The streets were empty, but the little pub nestled between two shops had windows that were foggy with the warmth of the crowd inside. Cacophonous, drunken laughter wafted out even though it was three in the afternoon. The narrow cobblestone alleyway in Edinburgh was becoming slick and cumbersome to walk over with his black, shiny loafers. He longed for his tennis shoes at home. Using his backpack to cover his head, he trekked through the narrow alleyway seeking shelter. Rickie wished he was back at his old home in California. It was always so grey here in this foreign town. And so cold. And back in California, he didn’t have to go to a school where he had to wear a uniform.
He missed his friends too.
The boys at “Barclay’s School for Young Men and Women” made fun of him and his “funny accent.” Funny accent? They were the ones with the funny accents! If only his friends from home, Mike and Chris, could hear them. Most of the time, Rickie couldn’t even understand what these kids were saying. And because of that… the boys all thought he was dumb.
He sighed. They also thought he was a snob. Apparently where he lived, Juniper Green, was where all the ‘rich, snobby’ folk lived. A minted Twally is what they called him. Mike’s family wasn’t as well off as Rickie’s, but Mike never cared about that stuff. These kids did. He was different from them and they didn’t like it.
Ducking around pockets of the downpour, Rickie looked around for a shop that was open. He just needed some relief from all this rain! As the drunken laughter faded behind him, he saw a small shop that was brightly lit from within. It looked so warm and had such odd things in the storefront window. “Barclay’s Baubles” read the sign over the small unit. It was sandwiched between a bakery and a bookstore, which were both closed, their windows boarded up.
As Rickie pushed open the creaking door, he heard a small bell slowly jingle overhead. The bell ached and sounded as if it hadn’t been rung in years; its inner pendulum rusted with age. He hesitated in the doorway, frozen underneath the old awning hanging over the door. He waited for a shopkeeper or assistant to approach him or yell. He heard and saw nothing. Thunder clapped above him forcing him to jump forward with fright. The door creaked shut behind him as the bell groaned its disapproval with being awakened.
It was warm inside and the old gas lanterns that were scattered around the crowded shop burned brightly with real flames. Haven’t these people learned what electricity is? Geez, what year did he just step into? Rickie thought. He looked around the narrow shop in wonder. Although it was narrow, it seemed like the length of the store went on for eternity. He couldn’t see the back of the shop. Although it was narrow, there were a few aisles piled high with knick-knacks, trinkets, old books, tapestries with great wars sewn onto them, and old swords and daggers glinted and gleamed in the undulating lantern light. Some of the weapons rested in sheaths, others in scabbards. Some were lifted up into the light by intricately detailed stands. As Rickie moved forward with awe staring at all the different objects, he nearly knocked into a large gilded egg that lay atop a stand that looked like an eagle’s claw. The claw was made of a dark mahogany wood, with ornate and detailed carvings spanning around the deep-colored wood. The arm of the claw moved down into the ground, forming a large round base. The claw holding the egg was pointed upward as if raising it up to the sky. He could see the details of the talons wrapped around the gleaming egg. Looking closer at the golden egg, it looked like it had little designs etched into its circumference. Rickie’s reflection of his damp, tousled brown, wavy hair seemed to move within the designs. As he moved forward to touch its glittering surface, he heard a voice behind him-
“It’s peltin doon out there!” Rickie nearly jumped a foot in surprise. He twirled around to bring himself to face the loud, booming voice. Before him stood a robust, red-faced man with white hair and a long, white beard. His front tooth was chipped and he wore a cap that sat cocked to one side, atop a head full of white curly hair. Wearing a green argyle sweater and faded brown trousers, the man looked as if he had come right out of a Scottish folktale. He didn’t really understand what the man just said, but he was certain he was referring to the downpour outside. Rickie nodded.
“Um… yes, sir. I’m sorry, I came in here to get out of the rain and saw that your shop was open…”
“Oh, don’t be dafty. No need to apologize lad! Yer welcome here!” The man straightened up and swept a hand out over the shop. “Look! Look! Choose anything yer fancy.” The man smiled at Rickie. He had a very open face and he saw a slight twinkle in his eye. His round cheeks seemed to glow under the lantern light. At that moment, this man reminded Rickie of Santa Clause. A Scottish Santa Clause? Rickie didn’t actually believe in Santa Clause anymore, though. He was twelve, after all. “A young man’s age!” his father would say.
“Um… I’m sorry, sir. But I don’t have any money,” Rickie stammered as he looked up at the man. He seemed nice enough but Rickie was afraid he would be kicked out for not being a paying customer.
“Ah, well. That’s a shame, me lad. But… it is peltin’ and yer here. And… I think I might have something barry fer ya,” the man squinted at Rickie examining him. “Ahhh. Yes. I think… ” The man spun around in a flutter and disappeared down one of the aisles in the shop. Rickie wasn’t sure what he was talking about or where he had gone until he heard his voice coming from far away. He sounded like he was a whole block away! How did he get that far and so fast? And how BIG was this store anyway?
“I got it right… Belter! Yes, lad. This is it!” Rickie went to follow the voice and went down the same aisle that the large man had vanished. As he walked through, he gazed around at the towering treasures around him. Books that looked like they came from the 16th century were piled on top of one another, creating a scaling city made out of books instead of cement. Candelabras of ranging sizes were scattered haphazardly along different tables. Coffee tables, corner tables, kitchen tables… Old silks were folded on top of one another. There were so many items! As Rickie trailed along, he wondered how long this shop really was. It didn’t look that big from the outside.
“Yep! This is it lad!” The man’s voice suddenly boomed from right behind him, scaring the wits out of Rickie once again. How in the world did he get from one end of the shop to the other so quickly again? And without knocking anything over or making a sound? As Rickie began mulling over these queries in his head, the man held a box out in front of him. “This here is just what yer need, lad. No charge. And yer really look like yer could use a friend.”
Rickie’s eyebrow raised. What did a box have to do with that? His eyes shifted down to read what was written on the cover of the box. “Dragon’s Egg: Just Add Water”. Rickie didn’t know what that meant. He furrowed his brow suspiciously, then looked up at the man.
“Sir. I’m twelve. I hardly believe that-“
“Aye, lad. Looks be deceivin’,” the large man said softly. “Yer believe what yer believe. And I believe this is EXACTLY what yer came here fer. Yer a long way from home, lad,” the man winked at him. “Go on. Take er.” Rickie looked back down at the box. On the front was a picture of a gilded egg. The egg looked to have etchings of little designs on it. Very much like the large statue he almost knocked into at the front of the shop. “Made in Toth” was written in very small letters at the bottom of the box. Toth? Where was Toth? Must be some weird Scottish city. He didn’t know. He was new here and the man was right. He was a long way from home.
As Rickie studied the box, he felt as if time had stopped. It was as if an eternity had passed as he gazed down at the box. His mind whirled. Suddenly, he wondered how many minutes had gone by since he had been in this shop? He knew his mother was picking him up and was usually late. But he worried that she would be waiting for him, or worse, think something bad had happened to him. He knew he had to meet her in the little park. That was their meeting spot.
He reached out to take the box. “Uh, thank you, sir. I’ll find a way to repay you somehow.“
“Aye. No charge, lad.” His eyes seemed to sparkle even more as Rickie’s fingers closed around the box and he withdrew his gift. He thanked the man for his generosity.
“I have to get back… My Mom is waiting for me. Umm… thanks again!” He quickly backed around the large man and started up the aisle, the way he had come. He waved as he headed toward the front of the shop, the man watched him, hands clasped behind his back.
“And lad…” he put his hands in front of his large, round belly. “If yer be in trouble… all yer need to do, is look up and think it. Ask for help, and they’ll find you.” The man smiled, put his hands up in the air, and laughed a deep, rumbling roar. “Yer be the one, lad. Yer be the one!”
Rickie’s family wasn’t religious, and this wasn’t the first time he encountered someone in Scotland talking about God, but he didn’t think the man was being religious or talking about God either. Yet, he still had no idea what the Scottish Santa Clause meant. “I’m the one?” Rickie thought. What a crazy notion. The one to… what? The one to drown in this rain? Rickie shook his head, then smiled at the man. He turned on his heel and ran toward the door. He narrowly missed the large, gilded egg he first encountered when entering the shop. He quickly glanced at it as he ran past, thinking it had changed color and the etched designs were moving. He wasn’t sure, but he quickly forgot about it as he shoved the old door open and ran out into the rain. The old bell above the door rang out in triumph.