The boy dragged the it of the broken branch laboriously through the damp sand. It made a fine writing surface, with the tide gone out. He could scratch in it to his heart’s content, and then when the waves came back, whatever he’d written would be erased. The same could not be said of paper. Even erasing wasn’t enough to remove what you’d said. There were ways to bring your words back to life, and words could hurt you.
He dropped the branch when he’d finished the last word. Then he dropped to his knees beside it, and bent double, hammering his fists into the unyielding surface of the sand. Dry sand was soft and moved aside when struck. Wet was like hitting concrete. He didn’t dare let out his pain and anger in sounds, but the thuds of his fists would be drowned out with the sound of the distant surf hammering the rocks of the long, arching jetty. The tears came, and with them, the snot. He dragged a wet sleeve over his face, clearing the mess somewhat, and smearing what the cloth didn’t carry away.
“You really should be more careful.”
The deep voice in his ear, almost, made the boy flinch and tumbled over to his side, as he scuttled away from the gust of wind and large presence that was looming over him. He stared up, his jaw dropping, as he fell backward onto the damp beach. Hovering mere feet above him, with it’s long, flexible neck extended downwards to him, was a dragon.
The dragon landed, with a belly flop that sounded like thunder, directly on the paragraph the boy had just finished writing out.
“You shouldn’t do this, you know.” The dragon sounded regretful, and he was shaking his head, the sunlight glinting off the edges of his black scales, their surface matte enough to seemingly absorb the light. His golden eyes with their cat’s pupils slitted even narrower as he put his head right up to the boy. The dragon’s head was as long as the boy.
The boy lay there, the breath gone out of him, his mouth slack.
“If you really wanted me…” The dragon shook his head one last time, and moved one of his front feet, drawing the boy’s eyes to the talons as long as his hand, which were moving along with the long foot over the last vestiges of writing.
“I didn’t.” The boy gasped. “I didn’t want you.”
“Oh?” The dragon tiled his head to one side, his front foot still raised in the air as thought he’d forgotten to put it down. “Then who, pray tell, did you want?”
“How do you know I wanted anyone?” The boy, resentful, sat up. The tears on his face meant he was now covered in sand that was rapidly drying and glued to his skin. It itched.
“You did write up a perfectly cromulent summoning spell.” The dragon settled his wings down, and neatly aligned on his back. “Generally, that indicates a desire for… someone.”
The boy stared up at the golden eyes, his own dark and wet. “I wanted my father.”
“And this was how you wanted him?” The dragon hunkered down, crouching low to the sand, his head moving slightly but never leaving the boy’s side.
“He’s dead. I didn’t think this would work.” The boy shivered. He’d gotten wet, lying on the sand, and the wind off the sea was chilling him. The skin around his eyes was dry and tight and painful. “He’s gone and I won’t ever get to talk to him.”
“I shall never understand humans.” The dragon rolled his eyes. “What would you have done had he shown up, instead of me? Dead?”
“I didn’t expect it to work!” The boy shouted, clenching his fists. “Don’t you understand that?”
“Don’t do it again.” The dragon unfurled his wings. “If you do it again, I may show up and talk sense at you. Like your father might have done when he was alive.”
The dragon disappeared with a flick of his tail, and the clap of his wingbeat that took him somewhere else, away from the beach, blew salt spray into the boy’s eyes. The tide was coming in. The beach would be a blank slate again in the morning.
The words were erased and so were the gouges of claws and dragmarks of a dragon’s belly.
I was prompted this week by Padre with “The dragon departed with a flick of his tail.”
I prompted Padre in return with “There was a short, dry cough.”
You can read all of the prompt responses, and join in on the fun yourself, over at More Odds than Ends.