How can you help? Heh. I’d love to know. More than you, probably. But I doubt you can. I mean sure, you’re more than welcome to try – I’m not keen on being stuck like this forever.
No, not up the tree, I know how to climb out of a tree, thank you. I mean like this, in this body.
Well yes, I suppose it is pretty, in a way. But it’s not… me. It was my great grandmother, actually.
Er, sure, you can touch the scales. If you can reach.
I dunno, they’re probably magical. I really have no idea, though. Oh look, let me tell you the whole story. Sit down.
It was a hot, sultry Tuesday in that month full of Dragon Tuesdays, and Sham and I were heading out for ice cream. There’s this great little parlour at the end of Beech Avenue that does the real, genuine home-made stuff.
Although we never said it, I knew we were both hoping that this time, we’d be the ones to spot the dragon – the dragon that had appeared with perfect regularity, every Tuesday of that month, somewhere around our tiny town. Seeing a dragon had become my entire goal in life. Yeah, I know. Ironic.
So, we were walking down Main, kicking up dust, laughing and joking and generally having a good time. School was out, summer was on its way, and life was good.
We hit the ice cream parlour – I got raspberry coconut swirl, just for a change – and took our waffle cones outside. There we were, licking our ice creams, giggling and hot and sticky, minding no one but ourselves, glancing casually around every now and then, just in case.
I’d gotten down to the cone and almost given up hope when there was an almighty crash-thud. A blinding flash of light shone from a side street; we ditched our cones and ran towards it.
“Dragon,” Sham exclaimed, eyes all lit up.
I nodded. A great beast, it was said to be, about the size of a wagon, metallic and boxy and roaring and blowing smoke out its end.
Right as we came around the corner, there was another almighty roar, and there before our eyes was the dragon. We were shocked, but not half as shocked as we were when there was a clunk-clunk, and the dragon’s body started opening up.
I shrank back around the corner and clutched at Sham’s arm.
But that wasn’t even the strangest: as the dragon’s body opened up, people emerged. Three of them: two men and a woman. They were wearing strange clothes that gleamed, dark and form-fitting. They stared at the buildings and murmured amongst themselves.
Mayor Francis must’ve heard the noise, ‘coz he came striding out of the Hall across the street, moustache twitching. He ignored us and marched right up to the dragon riders. “And who are you?” he demanded.
Sham and I didn’t hear their answer, so we edged closer.
They said something about there being a leak in time, where they came from, so whenever people drove through this one area, they ended up somewhere else entirely – often here.
I think they were a bit you-know in the head, personally. Still, it was the most interesting thing Sham or I had ever seen, so we followed them. Tailed them around from sun up ‘til sundown, mostly without them knowing, while they wandered around town “taking in the sights”.
Things were great until they’d been there about a week. Actually yeah, it was exactly a week; I know ‘coz it was Tuesday again. They’d been driving around in that silver beast of theirs, which we heard them call a ‘car’, and when they stopped at the old theatre, they left the back open.
They didn’t know we was there, of course, or they prolly would’ve made sure it was locked up real tight. But they didn’t, and Sham and I knew opportunity when we saw it, so in we climbed.
We had a good poke around, bouncing on the seats and hanging out the windows – and then I found it.
It was stuffed under one of the front seats, and I saw it pretty easily ‘coz in the darkness of the under-seat, it sparkled. I pulled it out just as Sham hissed at me to shut up, they were coming, get out – and I stuffed it in my pocket without even thinking, and promptly forgot about it as we scurried away, with the ‘car’ riders pelting things at us.
It wasn’t until after dinner, up in my own room, that I pulled it out. It reminded me of the empty lizard skins I’d seen out near the creek, cast off when the lizard grew too big for it. Except this must’ve come from a huge lizar. I draped it over my shoulders, wondering for a moment what it’d be like to be a lizard. The skin was soft, flexible. And the colours…
I twirled and it swung out, sparkling iridescent in the dim evening light.
The skin closed over my shoulders; it fit so well. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to stick my feet through the holes that appeared, to wrap it tight around me, to hug it around my chest –
Until the pain.
I screamed. I screamed until my throat hurt, and then I screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore, even though I wanted to. The pain, everywhere – it was insane. Intense. The most horrible thing I’ve ever felt or imagined.
Mum burst in and the look on her face was more terrifying than anything else.
“Oh, Chay,” she said, dropping to her knees. “Oh, Chay.”
“What?” I tried to say. “What is it?” But it came out as a strange sort of rasp. Panicked, I looked down at my hands – only they weren’t hands. They were claws. Like a lizard, only bigger and a shining, rainbow iridescence.
Just like the skin.
So Mum took me down to the kitchen and explained: my great grandmother had been the last of the real dragons, creatures half the size of a horse with wide, barely visible wings and a long scaly tail.
When she’d become the last dragon – when her husband had been murdered – she’d done the only thing she could: she’d shed her skin and taken the form of a human. She’d remarried, had my mother – and my mother had had me.
And I’d somehow gotten my hands on the skin. And because my grandmother’s blood flows through my veins, the skin was able to transform me.
Mum told me all this, and for a moment I was shocked. Then I was just plain horrified. I raced away, half running, half flying, an odd sort of skipping gait that was mostly a stumble. I didn’t have any idea where I was going; I just ran, maybe hoping I could outrun my fate. I’d wanted to see a dragon; not become one.
In my panic, I ran right into the strangers. They took one look at me, and started screaming and hugging each other. “Our dragon!” they shouted. “We found it after all!”
Something even scarier that learning I was a dragon? Learning I wasn’t the only dragon hunter in town.
My heart pounded and I raced off again, barely ahead of them and losing ground. The woman snatched at my tail and I leapt into the air in fright – which is about the time I realised what my new wings could actually do. I flew, circling up and away, and their cries died down behind me.
I could have flown away right then. It might have saved poor Sham if I had. But maybe not. And anyway, I didn’t, so never mind.
I hid that night in the barn out of the back of my house. From up in the loft I could see the light in the kitchen, and every now and then Mum’s silhouette passed by, and I could see her, and feel a little bit like I was home.
I was drifting off when I heard the door creak open, and with my new night vision and sense of smell, I could tell it was Sham. I opened my mouth to speak – but another voice beat me to it.
“Where is she?”
It was one of the strangers, the tallest man – the scary one.
Sham froze. “I… I don’t know.”
“Come now,” said the woman, slinking over to him. “We know it’s her we want, and you know it too. Just tell us where she is, and everything will be all right.”
Please, no, I thought desperately. Don’t tell them.
He didn’t. He stared back at them, fists clenched, and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know nothing.”
I thought at the time he was pretty brave. Now I’m not sure if he was brave, or just a little stupid. But either way, the man had enough. “We saw the dragon!” he yelled, right in Sham’s face. “We recognized our skin! You stole it, you and that girl. We know you’re friends; we know you know where she is, and you’re going to take us to her. Right. Now.” He hit Sham as he said those last words, smashing a sparking rod across his head and shoulders again and again.
Right then, I realized how much I’d loved having Sham for a friend. He’d been there for me when no one else had, and hadn’t even laughed that afternoon when he’d seen me in my skin. He’d been the best friend a girl could ask for.
And if they didn’t stop soon, they’d kill him for it.
I shivered, wanting to do something, but knowing I was too small and powerless to do a thing. I couldn’t even cry as I watched them beat him to a pulp.
He didn’t get up again.
We shouldn’t have hunted the dragon.
That… that’s it, really. After what I’d seen them do to Sham, I was pretty keen that they didn’t find me, so I ran, and I flew, and I hid. And I got lost.
And so here I am. A shiny little dragon, the very thing I always wanted to see, hiding in a tree, with no friends, and no future.
So, can you help me, or not?
Why are you laughing? It’s really not that funny.
No, it isn’t!
Um, I think you should put that down. No, I really think you should put that…