The Snallygaster Shell
Kevin bounced up and down in his seat. He opened the shiny black box and peeked inside. “It’s so rare, it should be in a museum,” Kevin whispered. He walked slowly to the front of the room.
“What family heirloom did you bring?” Mrs. Jacobson asked.
Kevin swallowed. His hands shook. “This is a piece of a Snallygaster shell,” he said, trying to speak slowly. “My grandfather saw the hatching.” He held the shell up and it sparkled in the sun.
His classmates sat silent and still in their seats. Kevin smiled. They’d never seen anything like Grandpa’s treasure.
Then, in the front row, Bill snickered. Javier snorted. Samantha giggled.
“That’s just a piece of quartz!” Jason shouted. “Only babies believe in Snallygasters!” The whole class hooted and laughed.
Kevin’s cheeks got hot. His stomach flipped. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see all those faces.
He stuffed the shell… no, the rock… into his pocket. He ran out of the class, down the hall, and into the bathroom. He threw the rock into the trash. How could he have been so gullible? Everyone knew that Grandpa told tall tales.
On the bus home, Kevin sat alone and stared at the floor.
Grandpa was waiting on the front porch. “How did it go?” Grandpa asked.
Kevin’s eyes burned. “It was miserable!” He screamed. “Why did you lie to me about that old rock?”
Grandpa frowned. “It’s not a rock – it’s a Snallygaster shell.” He held out his hand. “May I have it back, please? They only hatch every fifty years. It’s the only one I’ll ever find.”
Kevin studied his shoes. “I left it at school,” he whispered. Grandpa’s eyes drilled into him. Kevin bit his lip and hoped he wouldn’t cry.
A strange screech echoed across the yard. “What was that?” Kevin asked. He was glad to change the subject. He looked at his grandfather. The old man didn’t seem angry anymore.
His grandfather’s eyes sparkled. “I haven’t heard a Snallygaster since I was your age!”
“No, Grandpa,” Kevin said, “What is it really?”
“A Snallygaster,” Grandpa repeated. He pointed to a trail in the woods. “That’s the one. It goes up the mountain, to a silver lake. The Snallygaster nests there. You’ll need to go quick. After the screech, it’s only an hour or two until they hatch.”
“You want me to go alone?”
“I can’t come,” Grandpa said. “I’m too old. My grandpa sent me up the mountain when I was your age, and his grandpa sent him. Our family’s been watching Snallygasters since before the English came across the sea.”
Kevin took a deep breath. Grandpa was serious. He waved a quick goodbye and took off up the mountain. At first, the path was clear and the walk was easy. Then it scrabbled over rocks and through pine branches.
“I should go back,” Kevin thought. “If the other kids knew about this, they’d make fun of me.”
He was about to turn around when the path broke out of the underbrush. Kevin stood on a sandy beach beside a wide, silver lake.
He heard the screech again and whipped his head around. Something had dug a huge pit in the muddy shallows. A bird the color of fire flapped and screeched. It shot off into the air like a rocket and disappeared beyond the clouds. A loud “boom!” shook the ground.
Kevin crept towards the pit. Inside, a single egg glowed orange. Kevin reached toward it, but it was too hot to touch.
The egg fell apart. A flicker of flame zipped in spirals into the sky, peeping. Kevin picked up the two largest fragments of the shell. As he scrambled out of the pit, his foot kicked some of the mud loose, and the lake poured in. In a few moments, the Snallygaster nest was gone.
Grandpa was waiting when he got home. “You saw them, didn’t you?” he said softly. “I can tell by the smile on your face.”
Kevin took the shell pieces from his pocket. They’d already faded to the color of quartz. “I brought an extra back for you,” he said. “I’m sorry I lost the other one.”
Grandpa shook his head and smiled. “I’m glad you saw the Snallygaster hatch,” he said. “Most people don’t believe in Snallygasters anymore.”
“I feel sorry for them,” Kevin said. “They don’t know what they just missed.” He slipped the shell pieces back into his pocket. He’d find a safe place for them. After all, in fifty years he might give them to his grandchild.