Astrid and the Dragon
Another story in response to a prompt at Blackship Books.
An afternoon playing in the hot sun had left Astrid with a pounding head and a churning stomach, and her mother had sent her to lie down in the hammock under the apple trees. Sunlight and shadows played across her face but here it was deliciously cool. There was a drink within easy reach but it seemed like far too much effort to put her hand out for it. Her eyes were growing heavier and heavier, and she knew that she would soon be asleep.
Suddenly, a flash of movement and colour caught her eye, and she was wide awake again. She pushed herself up on one elbow and stared up into the branches above her. There it was again! A streak of bright green and brown passing across the shadows. She knew she was not imagining it.
But now all was still again. The green and brown something knew that she had seen it and that she was watching for it, so now it was keeping still and out of sight. She lay back down and closed her eyes almost all the way, hoping that this would be enough to lure it out. And it was. There was the same flutter of movement at the edge of vision but this time she was ready and could actually focus on it.
It was a dragon. It was tiny, hardly longer than her forearm, but perfectly formed. Two wings, their skin almost transparent when it flew through a patch of sun, beat almost as fast as a humming bird's wings. Its eyes were deep black, like tiny holes in space, and thin trails of smoke came from its nostrils.
Astrid felt that it was the most charming thing that she had ever seen. She kept as still as she possibly could, hardly daring to breath, and watched it swooping between the shadows its eyes on her all the time. One movement from her and it would fly away again, perhaps forever. The thought of so much brightness and beauty gone from her life, never to return, was heartbreaking.
She noticed with a thrill of pleasure that each swoop of its little wings was bringing it closer to her. Perhaps, if she kept perfectly still, it would land on the hammock and she could get a better look at it? Or even try to catch it! With her eyes still almost closed, all that she could really see was a blur of brighter green against the leaves of the apple tree but she knew exactly where it was.
Seemingly emboldened by her apparent slumber, the dragon took a couple of longer swoops that brought it down more quickly. And then without warning it landed on the hammock making it swing and bringing back her nausea. But Astrid ignored her stomach; she was trying to think of something that she could use as a net.
By now, the dragon had carefully folded its wings and was taking stock of its new surroundings. Then Astrid felt as if several needles had all been pressed against her leg at the same moment. Looking down, she saw that the dragon had clambered up onto her leg and was preparing to climb higher. Her involuntary movements, made in reaction to it sticking its tiny claws into her skin, had made it freeze.
Still fascinated by its bright green skin and unwilling to scare it away, she forced herself to relax again and went back to watching it though her eyelashes. Slowly, with many pauses, the dragon inched its way up her leg, across her belly and on to her chest. As well as its claws and weight, she could feel its heat through the thin fabric of her sun dress. It was the most amazing experience of her short life and she did not want it to end.
With its front claws on her collar bone, the dragon raised itself up to look full in her face. Astrid finally dared to open her eyes fully so that she could see its face properly. And then she screamed.
The eyes looking back at her were blank, entirely devoid of emotion. This was not a creature that one might keep as a pet; it was a horror. As if to underline her mistake even further, the dragon opened its mouth to reveal several rows of razor sharp teeth that it intended to sink into some part of her face.
Astrid sat up, hoping that this would dislodge the creature but although it had to adjust its grip, it clung on. She tried grabbing its thin, sinuous body, but it hissed threateningly. Looking around for help, she realised that her mother was no longer in the garden; she must have gone inside for something. Real terror gripped her heart and somehow she was sure everything was over.
Then the dragon gave another snarl but this one was not directed at Astrid. Looking up, she found that she and her unwanted companion were surrounded by a troop of tiny soldiers, none of them any bigger than her thumb and all of them carrying spears that looked very business-like despite being no larger than match-sticks.
“Drive the dragon off the human!” cried one of the soldiers, who was standing near Astrid's feet and who had a slightly larger plume on his helmet.
Half a dozen of the others hurried to obey, scrambling up her sides by using her dress as if it were a rock face. They then formed a line between her chin and the dragon, pointed their spears at the enemy and began to move forwards. The dragon resisted at first, hissing and snarling at them, and even snapping at the spear points. Slowly, however, the soldiers began to gain ground as the dragon backed away.
Unable to see where it was going, it did not progress in a straight line and without warning it suddenly slipped off the edge of the hammock.
“Don't let it get away!” shouted the captain, but his troops were ahead of him and most of them were already heading towards the ground.
Astrid was worried that they would hurt themselves but then she realised that they also had wings. She was seeing fairies! There were fairies in her garden! But she did not have time to think about that. She leaned over the side of the hammock to see what was going on below her.
The dragon had landed awkwardly and it took a second or two for it to recover. By then, the soldiers were also on ground and had even managed to throw a net over the dragon's wings. As it lay thrashing in the folds of the net, Astrid almost felt a twinge of sorrow. It might have wanted to eat her, but it was a living creature, bright and beautiful. Was this really the right thing?
“Excuse me, Miss?”
She turned and found that the captain was now standing on her chest. “Yes?” she asked, as if it was perfectly normal to chat with fairies under the apple trees.
“Can't have you telling anyone about this, Miss. Sure you understand,” and without any further warning, the fairy threw some sort of powder in her eyes.
A few minutes later, Astrid's mother checked on her through the kitchen windows and smiled. She was fast asleep.