BY DAVE MOORES
Copyright is held by the author.
IT LOOKED like a large dark bird, wings flapping lazily, coming low out of the sunrise over the lake. Yet something about it felt wrong and Susan got up and hurried to the kitchen window. That was when she realized that it was much farther away than she’d thought, and therefore bigger, a lot bigger.
Susan kept binoculars on a shelf by the door to her tenth-floor balcony. Gripped by rising curiosity and a prickle of unease, she pulled them from their case and stepped outside. After a moment’s scanning, she found the object of her search and her heart jumped. She drew in a panicky breath, then another: scalloped wings, a crested head, a slender tail trailing behind.
Was she hallucinating? Were the sun’s rays playing tricks on her vision? She’d had her Grade Four class read “The Hobbit,” but that was a product of the imagination. This…this thing had no business approaching a lakeside town on a bright Saturday morning in the Real World. Its place was in the pages of fantasy novels where its kind could talk, hoard gold and burn cities with their fiery breath. Instead here it was, monstrously, unacceptably real and drawing closer by the minute, its black scaly skin glinting in the sunshine.
The thing — Susan still shrank from calling it by its proper name — was holding a constant course with steady wing beats, and was now only a mile or so away. Through the binoculars, Susan focussed her amazed attention on the head: huge yellow eyes, fangs, a serrated ridge running up the snout and forming a crest above the forehead.
There was no point in arguing with herself. This was a large-as-life, holy crap, frickin’ dragon. Susan gripped the railing with shaking hands and watched what every atom of her intellect told her could not be real.
On the strip of parkland that separated Susan’s apartment building from the shore of Lake Ontario, a couple out for a morning run had stopped and were looking out to the lake, shading their eyes against the low sun. The woman pointed and the man shifted his gaze. They’d seen it too, so it had to be real. Didn’t it?
The rhythmic thump of rotor blades approached. A white helicopter hustled in from the east, along the shore. The bulge of a camera under the nose identified it as a news chopper. It came to a hover a hundred yards offshore, close to eye-level with Susan’s balcony. That clinched it for her, there’d be taped footage for the whole world to wonder at.
The dragon ceased flapping its wings and began a long, slow glide. At this rate it would land, if landing was its plan, right below where Susan stood rooted to the spot on her balcony.
The couple in the park screamed and ran as the dragon skimmed in low over the water. It ignored the helicopter and reared back, taloned feet extended, leathery wings spread to lose speed, and alighted, a little clumsily, on the grass. It turned and waddled to the water’s edge, crossing a pathway that ran beside the pebbly beach. The tail whipped around as it did so, felling a couple of saplings. The dragon lowered its head to the water and began to drink.
Susan’s fears melted away at that moment. What a magnificent, beautiful, awesome animal! The black scales shone and muscles in the shoulders and neck flexed as it leaned forward. Susan, though still shaken and wondering, now felt lucky as well, privileged in fact, to have been here to experience this.
But now here came the helicopter, edging closer for a better shot. Don’t, you dummies! Susan thought. Leave it alone, it’s thirsty. The dragon paused and turned its head toward the helicopter. It was hard to tell from behind, but it appeared to take a deep breath and sure enough, a jet of blue flame darted out. The chopper staggered, its windshield scorched to a milky white, and flopped down in shallow water with an explosion of spray.
Unperturbed, the dragon flicked out a red tongue and bent to finish slaking its thirst. When done, it retraced its steps across the beach to the park. The fearsome head swung one way, then the other, perhaps seeking the best direction for a takeoff run. On a crazy impulse Susan waved and for a moment — yes! — she was sure those yellow eyes met hers, and no, she wasn’t turned to stone.
The dragon laid back its ears, faced into the wind, leaned forward and loped through the park parallel to the shore. With a sound like somebody shaking out a giant rug, it spread its wings and took to the air, heading out over the lake.
It was leaving. Inexplicably Susan’s eyes welled up with tears. The most beautiful, wonderful, awe-inspiring thing she had ever seen, and now all she could do was watch it disappear. She rubbed the tears from her eyes, and then gazed open-mouthed and thrilled as the dragon pivoted in the air and headed back, barely clearing the masts of sailboats in the nearby harbour. Coming fast now, it flashed by Susan’s balcony, barely twenty feet from her, and a yellow eye flicked her way.
Respects paid, the beast climbed away into the sunrise. Susan watched as it dwindled to a speck, lost itself in the glare and was gone. She silently wished it well on its travels. But her way of looking at the world, she realized, would be forever different.
Her knuckles were white where she still gripped the railing. On the ground, she noticed the saplings in the park. Broken. The helicopter crew were wading ashore. And the joggers had run away.
Reality then? Illusion? What next, gryphons? Unicorns? Trying to separate the real from the imaginary felt like a waste of time after a visit from a dragon.