Short Story Monday continues! This week we follow a stubborn reporter, eaten by a lifelong obsession for a blue dragon…
On the Trail of the Blue Dragon.
‘Um’m tellin’ ya,’ the drunken lad said. ‘Hew’s right ther’ befor’ m’eyes.’
The reporter only got a few of these, but years of scurrying the most forgotten places in the world had granted him the magic ears. Any accents, patois, dialects, he could understand. Not that he knew the meaning of all words, but he had become quite good at reading the eyes, inferring context and gauging the truth from the lies. A half-slurred drunken speech was no match to a savage tribe in the lost lands of Fire.
His gaze was on the drunk, but his mind was fishing for clues from those around. People were surprisingly quiet, eyes riveted in the shadows of their ale, suddenly more interested in themselves, than they had been in his stories of his past voyages just a moment before. He had noticed; he had made a mental note. Maybe here, something was buried. Maybe here, they knew more about the Blue Dragon.
The drunken man went on, going into strange details of how the creature had eaten his roof and blew flames the colour of the sky, how he had taken captive his eldest daughter, promising him a pile of gold he never saw. He went on and on, but nothing seemed of interest, nothing seemed real. No, that man wouldn’t help him. There was another one though, near the window, that one kept glancing timidly, rapidly looking away when the reporter caught his eyes. That one knew something.
‘Another drink?’ the matron asked. The portly woman gazed down on him, her furry brows bending out of shape, and her tone quite flat, suggesting he should think twice before answering. Of course it might have everything to do with how many drinks he had bought the drunken man, encouraging him to talk. She was so big she could barely fit behind the counter, and her clothes were so dirty you would think she had killed pigs with her bare hands.
‘No thank you,’ the reporter said, getting his coins out. ‘Do you know where a man can spend the night, mam?’
She took the coins, eying him sideways, spat on them before wiping with her bloody apron and having a better look under the candle light. ‘There’s none of that here,’ she told him with a glare.
He laughed the comment off and cleared his throat. ‘I meant, where can I find a room to spend the night? The sun is almost gone and I need a rest.’
‘Don’t think we got any rooms left,’ she grunted before cleaning a nearby table with a darkened cloth that he doubted had ever been white one day.
‘Sure we’ve some,’ her husband said from the other side of the counter. His voice was hollow, reflecting some lack of judgement the matron didn’t miss. She glowered at him then eyed the reporter darkly.
‘It’s a hundred and fifty,’ she grunted.
‘A hund…’ the price was as much of a shock as the baldness that appeared at the top of the matron’s head. ‘A hundred and fifty you say,’ he repeated, watching her scalp with both surprise and uncertainty.
‘There are other rooms in the land, feel free to go and have a look,’ she added, her tone lighter as she moved away to another table.
She wasn’t the type to wait around until people had finished their meals – the matron would clean whenever she pleased, whatever the dishes, no matter who was there. Perhaps that explained the cloth, he thought.
‘No, no,’ her husband said, ‘don’t think there’re any other rooms out ther’, the Mud Back Inn’s closed and–’ the matron sent him a glare that could have frozen the drinks around here. A silence settled. ‘Yes, yes ther’ must be other rooms.’ The man retracted and eyed down a glass he was wiping clean.
‘I’d really like to stay here,’ the reporter insisted. He turned his head to the man sitting alone, spying on him from time to time, but he was gone. The reporter frowned, his eyes sweeping the room. No one was paying attention to him. Although he thought he saw a furtive glance from the matron, something subtle – but nothing escaped the reporter’s eye.
The back door of the tavern squeaked and a sliver of evening light came in with a breeze. The reporter readjusted his cape and hat, and flew after the fleeting man. He ran almost, and the closer he got to the back door, the louder the room returned.
Once outside, there was silence. There was nothing in sight but the Tipping Toe Woods not a few feet away, a few rocks here and there, and the warm light of a sun ready to say his goodbyes. The man had disappeared, vanished into thin air.
More intrigued than ever, the reporter explored the back yard with caution. There was a big boulder, soft on the edges and large enough to hide a man. Walking discreetly, he got closer and looked behind, but there was nothing. Still, his mind wasn’t at ease. It was sensing something, something close.
He looked up, watching the sky, hoping to see once and for all the incarnation of a myth that hadn’t left him since childhood. He had seen that beast, that creature of wonder. He had seen him when he was not even six years old, riding the skies with a tail of blue and purple, spitting flames the colour of gems, petrifying the ones that dared looking up, all but him. He survived and he never knew why.
‘Don’t look for what you’re not supposed to find,’ a voice said from behind.
A blow came to his head, hollow yet firm enough to send thunder inside him. He landed flat on the ground, right next to the boulder. He didn’t know whether it was his mind slipping away or his eyes deceiving him, but the rock started moving and dirt sprayed on his face.
Groaning he turned and turned again, until he could raise himself up on his elbows. His head was spinning, yet he found the strength to lean on the rock beside him and get up. But as he did, he lost balance and fell back down. Only it wasn’t because of his head – the boulder was alive.
Streaked with shiny rays of blue light, the rock opened like an egg. Flying past him, pieces of stone nearly broke his jaw and shoulders. What he was seeing cleared his thoughts like a slap of the wind. He winced himself back up and took out his hat, ready to pray like a sinner in front of some holy light.
Swift as a snake’s tail, it wrapped itself around his legs, lifting the reporter in the air like a skinned chicken. Blood flew into his head and made his eyes bulge. Panic only started now, when a foul smell slowly reached his nostrils.
A strong hand went for his hair, pulling on them hard to lift his face up. ‘Don’t you know the saying,’ the matron said. ‘Curious once, but never twice?’
She scrapped the skin out of her face and escaped from the body she had taken. Gone were the thinning hair and chubby cheeks, the dark apron and the heavy waist. Instead, a young woman appeared, hair as yellow as the sun, and eyes lusting for flesh. ‘Reporters and whatnots are my favourite dessert.’
She licked his forehead and jumped on the scales of her blue dragon, eying her meal from over her shoulders, before setting off into the sunset.
Copyright©2016 by Jane W King