Flash: Painted Sunflowers

Image from Kristina Sepanidenko on Unsplash

“Alaina, what have you done to your face!” Debbie explained.

“I got it painted.” The young woman turned her face to show off her left cheek. “I got a flower, isn’t it great.”

“No, I mean yes, that is really pretty, but—” Debbie grabbed Alaina’s face and turned it to see the right side of her face, examining the design there in the glow from overhead street lights. “Why did you get a black dragon painted? I know it is the dragon festival and all, but black, and on the face, that is just asking for trouble.”

Yanking her face out of the other’s hands, Alaina said, “What are you talking about? I only got the sunflowers and bee painted.” She reached up and touched the one cheek with the bright yellow oils. Then she lifted to touch the part of her face Debbie had been manhandling. “I didn’t do anything here.”

“Oh, don’t lie, let me get this wiped off before anyone sees,” Debbie licked her thumb and set about rubbing the layered design, hoping to smear it to unrecognizability. “You don’t want anyone thinking you are a rider.”

“Debbie, Debbie, ow, that hurts.” Alaina tried pulling back from the determined woman. “I didn’t do anything there. And while the face painter offered some cartoony designs of dragons, she hadn’t offered anything that could be mistaken for a rider tattoo.”

“Just let me…” Debbie rubbed harder, “it’s not budging. What in the nine realms did she use?”

“Stop, stop it.” Alaina grabbed both of Debbie’s hands. “You are scaring me. Debbie!” she shouted, causing several of the other festivalgoers to turn their way, some of them stopping and pointing. “What is happening?”

Debbie slow blinked her green eyes. “It’s real. It’s not moving, it’s real.”

“Rider.” “Black flyer.” “Is that a girl with a dragon tattoo?” whispers started in a circle around them.

“No, I got nothing there.” Alaina assured her.

“By Moxie and Damion, come here.” Debbie pulled Alaina to a nearby storefront glass-plated window by their joined hands. “You just became a rider Alaina.”

“Please, who would choose…” Alaina stared at the reflection in the glass. “Women don’t become riders.”

“They do.” Debbie touched the glass beside Alaina’s cheek. “White or red, sometimes even green.”

“Maybe it is a really dark green?” Alaina leaned in close, but the Illumination from the night street lamps didn’t give much reflection.

Debbie shook her head. “No, it’s black.”

She reached out and touched the glass herself. “A dragon chose me.”

“It’s the Festival of Choice, when the dragons finish their second molting.” Debbie wrapped an arm around her friend. “New riders are always chosen.”

“But kids, or matrons, or trained fighters, or someone else, anyone other than me.” Alaina laid her head on Debbie’s shoulder. “I’ve never been chosen before.”

“You only get chosen once.” Debbie quoted the old saying.

“No one in my family has flown. Not ever. It … I mean …” She wailed, “I got work tomorrow!”

(words 501; first published 1/14/2024)

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