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Dragons and Other Ways to Spend Your Summer
I’d like to begin by saying this whole mess was my best friend Sydney’s fault. If it had been up to me, we would have been at the pool, relaxing and spending our summer before eighth grade in a content bubble. But with Sydney, you can’t just spend your days lounging. Every moment has to be filled with adventure, every second filled with action. So that’s why, on the hottest day of the summer, we were stomping through the forest behind her house snacking on droopy peanut butter sandwiches and melting chocolate bars.
“Syd…” I moaned, squishing a mosquito on my arm and trudging a few feet behind me. “I’m-“ She glanced over her shoulder and gave me such a dirty look that the sentence died on my tongue. Looking back on it, her exasperation wasn’t without reason; I’d been complaining nonstop for nearly an hour, and that was enough to drive anyone insane. But at the time, this just made me even more miserable. I fell even farther behind and sighed, then plopped down on a branch. It groaned under my weight- even though that wasn’t much.
Sydney spun around, her brown hair slicing the air in an arc before coming to a rest on her sweaty shoulders. She put her hands on her hips and frowned at me. “Elizabeth Jane Markswell, you agreed to come hiking with me, and that’s what you’re gonna do! I’m tired of your stupid whining. Now get off of your butt and WALK!”
I opened my mouth to make a sharp comeback and heard a snap. My hazel eyes widened, then the branch broke and I fell to the ground, my dirty blonde hair streaming out around my face.
But there wasn’t a ground to land on.
I hit the leaves and dead plants that I had assumed were on top of dirt, and they flew down with me. I started screaming, and Sydney’s head appeared above me. “Lizzie!” She shouted, and my name echoed through the tunnel I was hurtling through. I scrambled for a hold on the mud walls, but my fingers couldn’t get a grip and I kept plummeting towards who knew what.
Then suddenly there wasn’t any more tunnel and I hit dirt with a thump. The air was knocked out of me and I doubled up, gasping for a breath. I heard Sydney’s voice calling from above but my lungs were already working too hard for me too even bother trying to huff out a legible word. I held up a thumb to show her I was fine, and I heard a whoop.
“Get outa the way, you big lump, I’m coming down!” I wriggled until the tunnel path was open and shook my head no, but of course, she was either too stubborn or too stupid to listen to reason. There was a short scream, then my best friend landed beside me.
She curled into the same position I had been in a few moments ago, but for much less time, then popped up, took a deep breath, and peered around at the strange world we had literally fallen into. From my spot on the ground, I did the same.
Everywhere we looked, there were shades of green. Green bushes, green trees, green grass, green everything. The sky was murky brown-green dirt. And across the clearing, surrounded (and partially covered) by a chunk of plants, was a cave filled with dark green shadows.
Syd jerked me off my butt and raced to the cave. I stumbled after her, more to make sure she didn’t leave my sight then out of excitement at the new adventure. She paused outside of the cavern and swiveled, waving me forward, then she disappeared into the darkness. I froze up unintentionally and listened, my senses all reaching out to where I had last seen her.
I heard a scream and the invisible hold on my feet let go, sending me flying forward, my sneakers slapping the dirt and my arms pumping against the air, which suddenly felt abnormally thick. The shadows swallowed my small form, and the clearing was empty once again.
A hand emerged from nowhere and slapped my shoulder. “Come on, Lizzie, the least you could do is try not to be so gullible. It’s so easy it’s boring!” I let out a sigh of relief and fear for myself flooded back, now that I knew my best friend was okay. I kind of got her reason for tricking me, no matter how sick of a joke it was, because we knew each other better than we knew ourselves- she knew that I probably would have stood there forever, frozen in terrified silence, and I knew that she thought (and still thinks) that the only way to move me was to make use of my- ahem- trustworthiness. Twisted logic? Maybe. But that’s why we’re friends.
I gave her a halfhearted punch back and squinted into the dark until my eyes adjusted enough to make out a light glow in the distance. Of course, I was two seconds late in my discovery, and Sydney was already up and running. I loped after her, my pale bare legs and arms like little flares in the dim light. I could only imagine what my braces looked like.
Being the pretty slow runner I was, Sydney was already at the source of the light by the time I caught up. Her mouth gaped open, her brown eyes were cloudy, and her whole body was limp in shock. I followed her eyes and gasped, my own body mimicking hers.
A pile of gold, silver, and gems spread across the floor, which was scratched flat by the claws of an enormous beast. The owner of the claws sat on the hoard, smoke curling from its nostrils as it snoozed, peaceful and satisfied.
The dragon’s head was about as long as I was tall, and two gleaming white fangs, as thick as my thigh, protruded from over its bottom lip. Its neck was ten feet long at minimum, the body twice as large. The tail, which ended in a fan like protrusion, was somewhere close to the length of two school buses, wrapped around its coiled body like a snake’s body as it sleeps. But most magnificent of all was its great wings, which were half opened, catching on a small gust of wind occasionally and drifting for a moment before coming back to where they had been. Its legs were broad and muscular. The whole form was encased in golden green scales.
I don’t know what waked it, except for that it was some scent, because its nostrils flared and the smoke stopped flowing. Honestly, it was probably the strawberry-scented lotion Sydney slathered all over herself every morning. I guess there’s yet another thing to put on the list of how Sydney really messed up that day.
It uncurled and I had another moment of terror as its insane size was exaggerated by its stretching muscles. The power of the beast was immense, and it obviously knew it, judged by its languid and precise movements. It knew that we knew that we had nowhere to go. I finally got that old saying- sitting ducks. The more we tried to escape, the faster our doom came.
It said something in a strange tongue, and I heard a hint of a feminine voice. We stared up at her with blank faces, and a puff of smoke erupted from her nose in a sigh. “What has the world come to when” She said something in a growling language and we both took a step back. “Don’t even know Latin?” She shook her massive head. “Disappointment is all your people are good for.”
Sydney’s tongue loosened and, in her usual bold and stupid way, took a step forward. “I THOUGH DRAGONS DIDN’T EXIST!!!” She screamed to the dragon, who brought her head closer to Syd’s and studied her with a wise gold eye.
“A common misconception,” She dismissed the comment and her eye, or at least the one we could see, considering the angle of her head, flicked between the two of us. “Who’s company do I have the pleasure of being in?” Her lip curled at pleasure.
Sydney pointed to herself. “Sydney. And this frozen blob is Elizabeth.” The finger gravitated to me. My own body came free from my spell of fear and I rolled my eyes, although anyone could tell my whole body was tensed to run.
The head came closer to me. “Elizabeth?” I nodded. “A regal name. Popular in royal families.” She looked at Sydney again and, I swear!, her eye twinkled mischievously. “Sydney was a popular name in the 16th century, too, if my memory serves me well. Particularly with the sons of the knights!”
Sydney huffed. She was used to the ‘boy name’ jokes, but, obviously, to hear it from a centuries old beast who knew what she was talking about was a blow. “Well,” She said haughtily. “What’s your name?”
The dragon lifted her head and thought for a moment. “Hmmm,” She whispered, almost to herself, and she sat back on her haunches like a cat, her tail flicking the air in deep thought. Finally, she gazed back down at us. “It’s seems to have been so long, I’ve forgotten!” She paused. “But, if I could choose any, I think I would choose Alicia.”
Sydney looked pointedly at me. That was my baby sister’s name.
“That’s a very… um… what was the word you used?” I asked, tugging at the bottom of my hair like I always do when I’m thinking hard. Suddenly it came back to me. “Oh, yeah! Regal. That’s a very regal name. It suits you. You are, after all, a very regal character!” In a moment of bravery, I shot forward and touched her leg, brushing my fingers lightly over her gorgeous scales. She recoiled and spat at me, and whipped her tail towards my head.
But before I got dismembered, she disappeared in a shower of sparks. And, right underneath the place where her enormous fanny had been, was a pair of golden green eggs.
We scrambled up the slope leading to Sydney’s barn, our backpacks laden with our amazing find. We snuck inside, slid our packs carefully off and onto a pile of hay. On the count of three, we unzipped them, and much to our surprise, the eggs were gone.
In their place were two tiny dragons that matched their mother down to the tip of their fangs- in miniature, of course. The one in my pack looked slimmer and more graceful, like Alicia, so we assumed it was a girl. Syd’s was extra muscular, with thick scales, so we thought it was a boy. The female we named Alice, and her brother was dubbed Arthur.
Within a few months, Alice and Arthur were too big for their little barn, so we moved them to a little clearing like the one where we found Alicia. We taught them to speak, and we had many conversations about politics and Twain novels, which we read aloud to them. Alice’s favorite was the Prince and the Pauper, and so was Arthur’s, but he just liked the talk of beheading and burning prisoners.
That was two years ago. Yesterday, we raced out to the clearing and got there just in time to see our precious friends fly away. We were reduced to piles of tears, reminiscing about all of the wonderful times we had with Alice and Arthur. We retold the story of how we got them in the first place and cried some more, laughing through our tears when I told how frightened I was when Alicia’s tail whipped towards my head. Then we went home and went to bed, even though it was only three o’clock.
But today, I had a moment of clarity. I’ve realized that the two probably wanted to see the places we had told them of in our stories. And they probably wondered where their mother was, and how they ended up with two humans. I’m recording this and sending it out into the world, with the hope that Alice and Arthur will find someone to read it to them. Maybe when they see how they came to Sydney and me they’ll come back. Maybe not. I hope they do.
After all, I can’t read Harry Potter without them.
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Remember... that each child is a separate person. Yours forever, but never fully yours. She can never be all you wished or wanted or all you know she could be. But she will be a better human being if you can let her be herself. ~Stella Chess
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