This is one of my favorite stories from The Parallel Abduction:
“Miss Brady, would you mind explaining to me how a dragon applies to our conversation?”
Elia glanced up from her doodle to find Professor Brown frowning down at her.
“I was listening,” she said, shoving the drawing aside and centering a page only sparsely filled with notes on the desk in front of her. “When I look at my drawings I’m able to remember what I was thinking about when I drew them. It’s a different form of note taking.”
Though it was true that Elia remembered a lot of the thoughts she’d had when she reviewed old drawings, her claim that it was on par with note taking was a stretch. Even if she had perfect recollection, it wouldn’t have helped in this instance. Her mind had drifted away on a tangent ten minutes before and she’d been considering the nature of inspiration while sketching out the dragon.
“And a fascinating one, I’m sure,” said the professor, making his way to the front of the classroom. “Dragons make for dangerous notation technique, Miss Brady,” he said, turning and facing the room again, “particularly if you value your grade.”
“I’ll write words,” sighed Elia, visibly holding her pen at the ready.
“Good,” said the professor, “you can start by writing down a reminder to hand in a five page paper on Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy this Friday. In it, you might examine who was consoling whom.”
“But Boethius is extra credit reading!” scoffed Elia, suddenly wishing she’d stayed in bed today.
“Not anymore,” said the professor. “Not for you.”
Elia groaned and wrote down her extra assignment while the professor resumed his droning about philosophy throughout history. It was all she could do not to start a new drawing as the minutes ticked by like snoring hours. Twice she snuck final embellishments onto her dragon doodle when the professor had his back turned. Each time he glanced back at her as if he knew. The second time it looked like his eyes were narrowed in warning. The third time, though, Elia’s pen hovered trembling over the paper.
Where the dragon had been was pristine lined paper. All of the doodles surrounding the dragon’s missing body were there still. Her skin went prickly when she looked up and saw her dragon stretching across Gabe’s neck as a tattoo. Gabe scratched his neck, just above the dragon, and with a slithering movement the tattoo disappeared under his collar.
“Have you taken up a new form of notation, Miss Brady?” asked Professor Brown.
Elia blinked and focused on the professor, who was studying her shrewdly. She glanced at the pen in her hand and forced herself to write a word on the page before her. Her eye drifted back to the empty space left by the missing dragon. Movement caught her attention a few minutes later as she recognized her dragon skulking across Dora’s doodle covered backpack. It seemed to be picking up extra designs as it went, and it was growing.
She lost sight of it when Professor Brown began strolling through the aisles between desks and she was forced to focus on writing what he said. He paused next to her desk, leaning a hand nearly atop the page missing the dragon doodle as he made a point that brought a chuckle through the classroom. Elia found her sense of humor was missing at the moment. She’d begun to hear a rustling in the back corner of the room. It was a faint sound, like someone crinkling paper, but no one in that corner of the room was moving beyond their dutiful note taking.
The professor moved on, striding to the front of the room while he cracked another historical joke. Elia saw it, for just a moment, before it disappeared out the open window at the back of the classroom. It had looked an awful lot like crumpled paper, but her design had been unmistakable. It had grown, and had adopted new artwork as well as dimension. She hadn’t been able to see much more. It had moved fast.
“Fire!” she heard someone shout outside.
A few of the students closest to those windows lifted from their seats as they craned their necks to see what was happening.
“Someone set the trash can on fire,” said Adam, sitting down again.
Professor Brown sighed.
“We’ll wrap up early today,” he said, folding his papers back into his satchel and slinging it over his shoulder. “Read chapters fourteen and fifteen. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The professor was out the door before any of the students, though Elia wasn’t far behind him. She followed him out of the building, keeping enough distance that she wouldn’t have to talk to him. He went straight past the blazing trash can, which suited Elia just fine. She stood with the growing crowd of onlookers, studying the surrounding area for signs of her strange animated dragon.
“I thought he was coming to help,” a student scoffed, staring at Professor Brown as he marched up to Igmus Hall and studied the brick for a few seconds before disappearing into its side door.
“Forget it,” said another kid. “Here comes security.”
A man in a security uniform ran toward them with a fire extinguisher in hand. Elia and the others watched as the trash can was doused with white chemicals, and felt the letdown when they stood there a minute later realizing that the excitement was over. She hung back after the crowd had disbursed, waiting to see if her dragon reappeared, but figured that it had either been a figment of her imagination, or if somehow real, had burned in the trash can. She checked her watch, and ran to her next lecture.
She had all but convinced herself that she’d dozed in philosophy by the time she settled down in the cafeteria late in the afternoon to get some homework out of the way before heading home, but when that page missing the doodled dragon fell out on the table, she felt a fresh chill. There had been more fires around campus, she’d heard. Security was on high alert, looking for their arsonist. She stared at that blank spot, and after a minute, pulled out her pen. She filled in a couple of swirls where the fiery beard had been. After another minute, she added licks of flame.
The sudden sensation of being watched swept over her, though it was only a wall at her back. Checking a fourth time after being unable to shake the feeling, she noticed the vent toward the ceiling. She stood, trying to get to an angle where she could peer inside. Fire erupted through the vent holes, nearly singeing her hair. Elia scrambled away, grabbing up her bag and running from the cafeteria.
She could hear the sound of rustling paper retreating through the ducts as she ran through empty classrooms, and then it disappeared where she couldn’t follow. She was still standing there, wondering what to do next a few minutes later when she heard new shouts on the lawn below. She went to the nearest window and saw another trash can ablaze. And then another one. Her eye followed the path to the next building and her breath caught. It was headed toward the library.
Elia sprinted down the stairs and onto the lawn, past the burning trash cans, her eyes scanning the ground for signs of… she wasn’t even clear on what she should be looking for. For that matter, she didn’t know what she’d do once she caught up to it.
“Think, Elia!” She sat on a bench and dug the doodled paper and pen from her backpack. “You were interested in this, weren’t you?” she asked, tearing the fire-edged swirls from the page and tossing it onto the walk.
A blur of movement swept from the brush behind the bench, knocking one of her dangling legs aside as it passed. She jumped to her feet, drawing another coil and lining it with fire. She tore that and held it out, drifting away from the library. She let the scrap fall to the lawn and jumped aside when she recognized the streak of movement. Drawing and enticing, she edged away from the buildings as the afternoon light waned and evening shadows stretched across the campus. After her first page was used up she had a few minutes of panic, thinking she’d lost its’ interest as she fished fresh paper from her backpack. The dragon picked up her torn design scraps again, though, after another nearby trash can had received its attention.
Elia inched a path across campus, avoiding buildings and walking paths, and people, on her way to one of the ponds. This pond had a bridge across it that was covered in carvings and graffiti. She hoped it would buy her the time she’d need. She tossed her scraps up to the center of the bridge, then stopped to start the design she hoped the dragon would be willing to wait for. On a fresh sheet of paper, forcing herself not to watch what the dragon was doing as it spiraled around the bridge rails in dizzying circles, she sketched out a pair of wings. She folded the paper shut quickly, wincing as she heard a hiss just behind her left shoulder. She folded a couple of creases, forming the hastiest paper airplane she’d ever made, and let it glide out over the water.
As she’d hoped, the paper dragon shot after it. It caught up to the airplane while still several feet up, though, and Elia’s breath caught, wondering how quickly the dragon might adopt the wings. She hadn’t considered that. One wing sprouted, sending it into a spiral. The second one was just unfurling when the dragon finally met the water. It flapped, but already the paper body was absorbing the heavy pond water. Elia watched as the dragon sputtered its last few jets of flame into the evening’s dimming light before it became a limp, drifting crumple of paper on the pond’s surface.
“Miss Brady, I’d have thought to find you in the library, reading Boethius by now,” Professor Brown’s voice said from the end of the bridge.
Elia started at the sight of her philosophy professor. “I was just heading over there,” she said, giving him a friendly wave.
“See that you do,” he said. “You have a good mind, Miss Brady. More time spent studying and less time drawing dragons will serve you well.”
Elia nearly laughed. “I couldn’t agree more,” she said. “Goodnight, Professor.”
“Goodnight,” he said, watching Elia until she was out of sight.
After a slow turn, surveying the grounds, Arthur Brown withdrew a lead-lined bag from his satchel and fished the dragon from the pond, sighing sadly when he noticed its wings.
“Come on old boy,” he muttered, “it’s not your time yet.”
A fire cackled in his study an hour later and Arthur sat staring at the narwhal affixed above his hearth, absently petting the creature stretching against its lead-lined prison. He’d always hated this part. He knew what would happen if he didn’t do it, but it still felt wrong.
Arthur smiled. He’d been expecting a visit.
“Fifth one this semester,” he said. “They’re getting stronger, too. I think the time might be near.”
“What was this one?”
“Dragon,” chuckled Arthur. “You checking up on us?”
His visitor went to the cabinet and poured himself a drink.
“Always,” he said. “And you’re right, Arthur, it is time. Are you ready?”
Arthur rose, the bag in his arms. He was careful to position the little dragon so that he had a hold of its head when he loosened the bag. The jet of flame danced with the fire in the hearth. Once it was spent, Arthur acted swiftly, impaling the paper creature on the narwhal’s horn. The whole dragon turned to ash instantly and Arthur felt that familiar pang of regret, wishing he’d had a chance to examine it. To see what artwork it had taken into itself and try to figure out why.
“A student posed an interesting concept today,” he said, already feeling the change as the swirls of Elia’s pen traveled down his wrist. “She said that she can look at her drawings and remember what she was thinking when she drew them. Maybe that’s what we’ve been missing in all of this.” He gasped at a sudden pain in his back and doubled over as his legs cramped. “What if…” it was getting more difficult to form words. “I wonder if it was a certain intent, or thought… in common… agh… fthhhh… ssssssssss…”
The visitor took Arthur’s seat and sipped at his glass while wings unfolded from Arthur’s back. The patterns took over every inch of his skin. Great swirling coils fell from his jowls and twisted up from his forehead. The creature turned toward the visitor, his eyes still Arthur’s, until they weren’t.
Written by W. C. McClure. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Please help support this indie author by telling your friends about http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!