Off Script

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The Shipbuilder Dragon

The sand was warm on my feet as I walked, cautiously, toward the dune giving off the enormous clouds of dust. Beside it, stood a ship made, as all the others are on my world, of sand.

It seemed, after a few steps, that I could feel light tremors coming underfoot. Tremors that grew stronger with every hesitant step. Something caught my eye that I couldn't quite fathom. I squinted at the dune and noticed that, no, I was not imagining it. The whole dune was shifting, the sand was floating off the pile and flying away in the wind.

My heartbeat hammered my chest and danced around weirdly, my mind spun and froze. It was as if my whole body was aware of something I was not. That what I was about to see was something extraordinary. Something that no one in my world had ever seen before.

As the dune caught, bit-by-bit, onto the wind and sailed away... the skin of what was underneath began to show. It was a translucent green, and it was covered in sharply contoured scales that shot out jaggedly in neat rows. I placed a hand on the ground to steady myself as the creature uncoiled. It's body was long and serpentine, its mouth was closed but its pointed teeth stabbed down below its jaw.

I felt my eyes wanting to tighten and shut away from the sight, but that I, the inner I, still wanted to see. I kept my eyes wide, and the creature popped its eyes open. They were bright yellow, like warm custard – but the look in them was not warm, it was cold. When you look into water, you see a reflection but when you look into ice it is as if you are closed off, made to be separate, deterred from staring for long. And, that is how the dragon's eyes were. Like ice.

It raised its mighty head and shrieked. The shriek I had heard before and that I, unlike my family, could not bear to ignore. As the beast caught sight of me, its eyes glared. Legend, I have learned since, says that these beasts could once breath fire, but even fire breath would have been a relief in comparison to the heat of its glare.

I did not move. It was not so much courage as it was my legs refusing to obey.

The dragon made itself even larger, casting its massive wings away from its body. They were enormous and almost as long as the dragon was itself. But, the right wing was damaged. It was missing a piece that the other wing had intact, and while the left wing swatted at the air mightily, the left wing flapped like a flag blown by the wind.

I could not tell you now what possessed me at the time, but as the dragon roared and shrieked and threatened... I sat down on my heels and bowed low in front of it. Not as a sign of admiration, or worship, but as a sign of submissiveness. I wanted the creature to know I was not a threat, and I hoped it would not tear at the neck and back I left exposed.

The injured wing was not only something you could see, but something you could hear. While the left wing slapped at the air in such a way that made a distinct crackle, the right wing fluttered weakly. The dragon slowly relaxed its threats to a resonant growl. And then, it spoke to me. Not with a voice, and not with words, but it spoke directly into my mind in way I cannot explain. It said, “Why are you here?”

I tried shouting, hoping the creature could hear me over the winds created by its mighty wing. “I heard you! I heard your calls!”

The dragon did not answer.

I asked, “Can you understand me? Can you hear me?”

“Of course. But, why don't you try speaking to me like I spoke to you?” said the dragon.

'I can't' I thought to myself.

The dragon answered, “No? But, you have just done it.”

“I did?” I thought back to him. “You can hear me?”

“I responded, didn't I?”

I thought that this was a fairly snarky way of responding to me, and I felt a bit stupid for asking.

“I apologize if my tone offended you. And, don't think yourself stupid. I can assure you that you are far from that.”

“You can hear everything I am thinking?”

“Not hear, no. But, I can feel it.” said the dragon. “Does it bother you?”

“No,” I said. But, realizing the futility in lying to a creature that can sense my thoughts, I retracted. “Yes. In a way.”

“Does my body disturb you?”

“No,” I said, meaning it. “What happened to your wing?” I was also thinking things like 'what are you?', 'you don't exist', and things like that.

There was a tangible joy in the voice of the dragon... if it was a voice. He seemed to be enjoying my puzzlement. “My wing?” said the dragon. “Nothing has happened to my wing. It's just a matter of conversion.”

“I don't understand.” I said.

“When I shifted. My real injury is elsewhere. I hoped that in becoming a dragon I could escape it, but the process kept the injury intact.” said the dragon. “You're getting faint.”

“No, I'm...” I began, but realized that I was. “Yes. Very.”

“It is because you are not used to conversing this way.” said the dragon. “If you like, I can shift back. It should relieve the migraine forming.”

I nodded my head, finding myself unable to quite speak the words.

The dragon spun its head toward the ship and it took to the air. Its flight was short-lived and unbecoming of such a terrifying beast. It landed beyond the ship where I could barely see its head. There was a sound, like the rushing of waves, and a flash of blinding white light. I could no longer see the head of the dragon. The beast was hidden behind the ship.

“Are you alright?” I thought. It didn't hurt so much to think anymore.

“I'll be right with you,” said the voice of a young man. He came out around the front of the ship, smiling warmly. He wore a friendly, red beard and his skin was creamy white. His head, which seemed to have hair of the same color as his beard, was covered by a flat-brimmed stetson. He limped awkwardly in the sand, leaning heavily on elbow crutches. He tried not to let the pain show on his face, but it did show. He wore on his body what I later found out was called a poncho, with dirt-ridden jeans, and his feet were covered in boots.

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