Flash: Old Dragon


[Old Dragon – flash story]


“So, grandpa, what was it like back in the days of dragons and knights?” The young man had superior air about him. Ancient and venerable, history and honor, these no longer had value to him. He wanted to bait me, belittle my accomplishments. He passed me a heavy stick; thick as his wrist. I needed both hands to steady the weight.


I admit my days of glory were not yesterday, or even the day before yesterday. I like the comfort of the community hall and earned my keep by keeping the fire burning, feeding it with twigs and sticks the young things brought as gifts for the next story. I fed his branch into the fire, the flare of heat pushed back the cold and arthritic pain.


“I first saw a dragon when I was eight, nearly nine. I was gathering wood, being the lowliest and youngest of Sir Egil’s squires. I erroneously thought of myself higher than I was and was complaining the whole time to Windflyer, the warhorse I was tasked with excising that day.”


I pressed a cup to my lips wetting them. Under my eyelashes, I watch the boy lean forward unconsciously. Two or three children, tiring of carding wool for the spinners, gathered at my feet. They made slight rustling noises as they settled. I waited patiently, but my hopeful tormentor, eager to prove his early manhood superiority, was as uncomfortable with silence as most his age, gave me power when he asked “So what happened?”


“The horse, the smallest, fastest, and steadiest of the three horses my knight kept in the lords’ stables, had been difficult to push into the hills that night. He had been so unlike his normal self, I tethered him as I gathered wood and loaded the sled. A good thing too, otherwise I would have had a long walk that night and things would have been very different around here.”


One of my miniature audience could not contain his excitement. “Because he would have run away.”


“Aye, Barry. Windflyer would have been safely home before I had taken three steps.”


The young man, Talar, leaned against a chair. He was new to our town, a tradesman establishing a laundry using machines we had never seen before.


“And I wouldn’t have blamed him…Because the night screamed.” I stabbed a finger towards my stick provider. “Have you heard a wildcat scream in your travels? The bloodcurling sound that travels up and down your spine, somewhere between a human scream and something…else?”


“Sure. Are you saying it sounded like that?”


“No.” I waited, staring at him until he shifted just a little. I watched his eyes search the room as he tried to process my flat response. He slipped into the chair fully. Just before his next question came, I filled in the silence “The sound is as different from a wildcat as a wildcat’s from a chicken cluck. A wildcat may sound unnatural, but a dragon IS unnatural. The scream tears your spine in half with shivers. Every part of my body insisted I had to run, run away, and no part of my body could move. My ears burned. My eyes watered. My breath stopped.”


“Then I saw it. A shimmer of night destroying trees with a leap. It climbed through the air, clawing and scratching. The heavy form pulled from ground to sky by sheer willpower for nothing that huge should fly. I felt empty air hit me like blows as it fled the horrific presence. A black shadow cut a hole in the starry sky, widening it and widening it. Absorbing all light in a path towards the lord’s castle. Blocking all sound but the beating and pounding of wings against helpless air.”


(Words 627; first published 1/24/2014; republished 1/6/2019)