by Gillian Walker

 

A strange boy stood on my back lawn, looking up at the hill; hands on hips, jutting elbows, the small of his back arched. He was no more than ten and I rushed outside. He turned at the sound of gravel shifting under my shoes and I was struck by the unquestionable certainty that the boy was me.

I stood, my mouth open, and the boy took it upon himself to instigate conversation. In his situation, I’d have done the same.

“Almost feels like they’re alive.” He swept his arms around the panorama of hills.

I’d thought the same when I bought the house. I cleared my throat. “People say the hills are a sleeping dragon.”

The boy squinted in disbelief. “Dragons don’t exist.”

“They do.” I found comfort in disagreement. “At least the sleeping kind.” And I pointed to the fold in the hillside. A hind leg.

The boy scowled.

“And there, a claw curling up from the toe on that foot.”

He believed that more than the leg. He wanted to know more.

“The head’s turned away from us,” I said, “over on the other side of the hill.” It was a shame because the closed eyes were obvious.

The boy studied the hillside.

“There,” he said, pointing to the sheep paths, “those are the bones in the dragon’s wing.”

I looked at the faint trails, fanning across the grassy slopes and white lace panic touched me as I saw the dragon afresh.

“Yes,” I said. “They must be.”

The boy’s gaze passed along the lowest ridgeline, down through the housing estate and back into my garden.

“You don’t mind living on a sleeping dragon then?”

I shuffled in the gravel. “I’m not sure it stretches this far.”

“It does,” he said, “we’re standing on the tail.” He had the sure confidence of someone who had lived barely a decade.

I remembered his sense of certainty.

He looked to the matchstick figures on the top of the hill. “Won’t it wake the dragon, all those people climbing on it?” He clenched his fist. “And all these houses. What happens when the dragon wakes?”

“Don’t worry,” I said. The conversation had gone too far. “This landscape’s covered in sleeping dragons, we manage just fine.”

The boy stayed that morning and helped cut the hedge. That afternoon, he made a sword from left over fencing. Then he wove a shield from the shoots I pruned from the apple tree. When he’d finished, he danced around the lawn with his new toys.

“I can climb the dragon and pierce his brain through his ear.” He brandished the sword, stabbing the air in front of him. “Then we won’t have to worry about what happens when the dragon wakes.”

I laughed despite myself.

Later, I watched the boy practise his fencing moves from the lounge window. He set his legs apart for balance and held the shield over his vital organs, just like I’d shown him.

But, what had seemed endearing felt pointless; one breath from the steaming nostril of a newly woken dragon and the sword and shield would be ashes falling from the flames. I marched outside to tell him, slamming the kitchen door.

The boy frowned. Sweat trickled from his hairline. His palm was bleeding where the rough wood of the makeshift hilt had torn his skin.

“I’ve been thinking about my plan, to stab the dragon in the brain through its ear?”

I nodded, trying to find the words to tell him his toys were useless.

“Do dragons even have ears?” His face was crestfallen, expecting the worst. His eyes frantically searched the lawn for a solution.

I motioned for him to give me his sword. “They surely do,” I said, and I inspected the wooden blade, pretending to admire the craftsmanship. “But this dragon’s been asleep for a million years.”

The boy looked up, shading his eyes from the sun.

“And they say it’ll sleep for at least three million more.” I held out my hand. “Let’s go inside and talk contingencies.”

He propped his toys at the base of the apple tree and I took myself in for tea.

 

 

Gillian Walker is a fiction writer based in the UK. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Vestal Review, Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology 2016, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Riverfeet Press Anthology and FlashFlood Journal and has been shortlisted and longlisted for the Fish flash fiction competition.  She is a fiction reader for Bartleby Snopes.

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