“Come on! We’re almost there.”
Alice’s older brother drug her behind him; his legs were so much longer than hers that she had to take two steps for every one of his. Sure he was three years older than her, but did he have to go so fast? Alice almost tripped over one of the many exposed tree roots on the dank forest path as they trekked toward the wizard’s cottage.
Frogs croaked and cicadas buzzed all around them as they made their way deeper and deeper into the forest. Alice thought she heard heavy breathing — like from some kind of large animal, a bear perhaps, she couldn’t be sure. She gasped at a sudden rustling noise and squeezed her brother’s hand as tight as she could. They kept walking; Alice watching her feet to prevent herself from tripping. A large crow cawed loudly, taking flight above them from a knobby old tree, its branches thick and leafy.
“If we get there soon,” her brother said, “we can be home before Mother knows we were gone.”
Alice tugged on her brother’s arm, trying to slow him down, reluctant to go any closer to the magical house.
“Peter,” Alice said. “I don’t want to go anymore. I want to go home.” She hoped that she didn’t sound as scared as she felt.
“Don’t be such a baby,” Peter chided. “We can’t turn back now. We need to find Father and the wizard knows all kinds of stuff. He’s the only person who can help us.”
“But- But Father never came back after going into the deep woods. Mother said it’s a bad place.”
“That’s just what Mother says to keep us at home.”
Alice wasn’t so sure about that and coughed to clear her throat. She was certain that the dark shadows watched them and listened to every word they said. But she wasn’t a baby and she shouldn’t act like one no matter how frightened she was. Resolutely, Alice took a deep breath and walked faster. Perhaps Peter was right, the sooner they got to the wizard’s cottage the sooner they could go home.
Lizards scuttled across the stone and root filled path. Water from shoots and squishy moss soaked through Alice’s leather shoes, chilling her toes. She wanted to complain but knew Peter would just call her a baby again, so she remained silent. The smell of burning wood wafted into her nose, reassuring her that their destination was close.
“Come on,” Peter said, pulling Alice a little harder. “There’s the clearing.”
Alice inhaled sharply startled by a rustling in the bush to their left, but it was only a squirrel scurrying from beneath the low shrub and up the closest tree. She trebled, squeezed her muscles to make Peter think she wasn’t worried, and struggled to keep up as they neared the gap in the trees. To distract herself, she turned her thoughts toward the wizard. Perhaps the wizard did know something about Father’s disappearance, but would he help them? What if a soldier found Father and forced him to fight in a war, or a bandit robbed and wounded him and left him for dead. Perhaps Father was captured by the neighboring king and sold into slavery? Could the wizard help them then? Maybe Father was in trouble and needed saving: like a witch cursed him, turning him into a toadstool. The wizard could certainly help with that. Or maybe a goblin tricked Father and switched places with him and now he needs someone to break the spell. A wizard would be helpful for that too.
But as Peter led Alice into the clearing her eyes practically bugged out of her head. Or maybe Father was eaten by the very scary dragon that protected the wizard’s cabin in the middle of the clearing. The sight of the the most gigantic dragon she had ever seen stopped her in her tracks. It was much bigger than the wooden cabin, even with its tall, sharp cathedral like steeple. But this was no place for angels and beautiful music. Puffs of smoke billowed from its noise. That must have been where the burning smell came from, not from the crooked steel pipe with several kinks in it that was supposed to be a chimney. The dragon’s massive, golden body wrapped tightly around the little house prospectively; his lizard’s nose butt up against the door and his huge, scaly front paws with sword length claws jut out from behind his head. Some of the spines along the dragon’s back were as long as Alice was tall, some were longer than Peter. Thank God the creature was sleeping. They had to go back home now.
“Come on, let’s go,” Peter said, pulling her down the path, past the large trees, and into the clearing.
Alice tugged at her brother to stop, eyes wide with unrestrained fear. “What are we going to do about the dragon?” she demanded in a hushed whisper, not wanting to wake the ferocious creature.
Peter looked puzzled. “What dragon?”
Alice pointed. “That dragon.”
Peter turned to the cottage, stared a moment, and looked back at Alice. “The only dragon I see is the spiral paint over the door. And I don’t think it can do anything to us.”
Alice didn’t see any spiral only a very real looking dragon, whose body expanded and contracted with every breath it took and small puffs of smoke smoldering out the creature’s nostrils.
“There’s a light upstairs,” Peter said. “Obviously someone’s home.”
Peter took a step forward, but Alice let go of his hand, saying, “I’m not going.”
“Ok.” Peter shrugged. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
He strode through the small clearing, his feet squashing through the wet grass. He made a bee-line to the front door, right through the dragon’s bulging tail.
Alice gasped, covering her mouth to prevent herself from screaming, as the dragon’s eyes flew open and lifted his head suddenly.
Peter knocked on the door. “Hello?” He called.
Alice shifted her feet, clamping her lips shut, and wringing her hands together, unsure of what to do. She was afraid for Peter, but at the same time didn’t want to anger the beast by doing something sudden or loud.
The dragon blinked, leaned toward Peter, and sniffed his hair.
At the same moment a gust of wind rustled through the trees and tousled Peter’s hair. He reached back and scratched the back of his head and when he knocked a second time the door creaked open. The dragon pushed Peter into the house with his muzzle and once her brother was inside, the door slammed shut behind him.
Wobbling from side to side as it stood, the dragon moved its girth in front of the cabin door, blocking Alice’s view completely. As the creature laid back down its golden eyes fixed on Alice.
The monster’s gaze immobilized her. She could barely breath. She shook so violently that her knees buckled beneath her. But when she fell, she didn’t hit the cold, wet earth instead she was caught by the warm, scratchy surface of the dragon’s tail, which was pliable, not hard and rough as she imagined.
It took a moment for Alice’s heart to stop pounding in her ears, but when it did she stood up and studied the dragon’s face. Its mouth opened slightly to reveal a forked tongue that tasted the air and he tilted his head, showing his smooth under-scales. A small golden chain with a heart shaped pendant glinted as sparse rays of light peaked into the clearing. Tentatively, Alice padded toward the creature’s neck, curious but cautious of the spines and teeth.
The dragon moaned and shivered when Alice touched the delicate chain; the vibration made her nervous but strangely put her at ease all at the same time. The pendant was actually a locket the size of Alice’s face. When she opened it she was disappointed to see two strangers; but they did look like they were in love, which made her smile. The woman’s profile was seen as she smiled dreamily and gazed at the man in the left photograph, whose lips were only slightly up-turned and eyes searched for the woman on the right. Feeling a little sorry for the dragon, Alice stroked its neck and turned to look into the golden eye that studied her.
“How do you have this locket?” she asked. When the dragon didn’t respond she added, “Are you really a dragon?”
At first the dragon moved as if to shake its head no but he nodded his consent instead.
A little confused by the dragon’s hesitation, Alice frowned. “Is it your mother and father?” She thought it was a stupid question, the pictures were of people and the dragon was, well a dragon, but she was thinking about her own parents and how this locket would have been something her mother would wear around her neck.
Eyes closed the dragon hung his head and then nodded once.
“Really? How did you become a dragon?” Alice’s heart jumped into her throat and she tried to look through the dragon to the door that her brother had just entered. But when she looked back at the dragon he shook his head. Alice looked at her soggy shoes for a moment, leaning against the warm body of the dragon.
“Did you go see the wizard?”
Yes, nodded the dragon.
“Did the wizard turn you into a dragon?”
Alice frowned, closing the locket, and mumbled, “Then how did you become a dragon?” She fingered the fine chain, noting how cold it was compared to the dragon, and found the hook that fastened the chain around the creature’s neck. Smiling to herself, she turned to the dragon. “Would you like to see your locket again? It doesn’t look like you get to see it very often.”
The locket flew out of Alice’s hand the dragon nodded so vigorously and he shifted his weight from foot to foot in his excitement.
Laughing, Alice pat the dragon. “Calm down or I won’t be able to show you.”
Once he was calm Alice removed the locket from around his neck. The chain slid around and clanked onto the ground. Clutched the locket tightly Alice rushed to the dragon’s face, smiling and lifting the opened locket high above her head.
The dragon shook with joy and stood on his stubby legs. Smoke billowed from his nose and mouth as he threw his head back. He kissed the locket with his snout, leaving a smoky haze on the glass. Grunting a satisfied sigh, he gently pushed his muzzle into Alice’s stomach.
She giggled, his warm breath tickling her, but coughed at the same time as bits of soot filled the air around her. She threw her arms around the dragon’s nose and kissed it, forgetting the locket and dropping it on the ground.
Suddenly the cabin door swung open and Peter marched outside scowling. “What a waist of time! No one actually lives here. The place has been deserted for years.” Disappointment shadowed his face. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Alice scanned the clearing for the dragon, but it had disappeared the moment Peter opened the door. A glint of gold caught her attention; a small locket on a thin chain lay at her feet. She scooped up the trinket and opened it. It was empty. The gold on the outside was smooth with the exception of a spiral dragon etched on the front. Alice smiled, quickly latching it around her neck.
“So where did the light come from?” She asked, running to catch up with her brother.
“It was strange, it was completely dark inside. I don’t know what I saw.”
“What about Father?”
“He’s gone Alice. There’s nothing we can do about it.” He said, grabbing Alice’s hand roughly and hurrying up the path. “We have to get home before Mother gets home.”
Alice scurried to keep up, glad that she got to meet the dragon. He seemed so lonely and so happy that he was able to see his parent one last time. Clutching the dragon’s locket in her free hand she smiled.
I hope you enjoyed the short. These are not the characters I normally write about, but I was inspired by some of the pictures I’ve found on Pintrest.com. Let me know what you think….