Noah’s Boy – Snippet 25

From every direction, dragons were flying in: dragons in all colors and sizes.  All of them, that he could see, had the face of Chinese dragons, and many had the sinuous body that appeared in Chinese representations, as well, but they came in all sorts of tones, from light pastel to deep jewel red and blue and green: sometimes all in one individual.  They came flying in so fast that Tom thought half of them wouldn’t be able to land.  They came in so massed that sometimes it seemed two and three were flying almost one on top of the other, and it was amazing none of them collided, or entangled wings.

They landed, so close that it was like a crowd of people standing with no room to move their arms.  They stood, wing jostling wing, a moving mass of shining scales, large and small, bright and pale.

Tom understood, suddenly, a fact delivered by those sealed files at the back of his mind, that size was a function of age for dragons, as well as a function of natural heredity.  None of which explained his own size change.  He was almost sure that he hadn’t aged a hundred years in minutes.

And he wished he knew what to say to them.  As he thought this, he knew it — and also that he’d be able to speak clearly because he’d be using dragon language, delivered up by yet another of his files.  And yet he balked at it.  It wasn’t true.

But there was no point arguing with the instinctive knowledge of what to do.  He had a sense of how many times this ritual had been repeated — and only twice in error — throughout the millennia uncountable that dragons had been on Earth.  And that twice had been… best for the ritual to take place anyway.  Without the ritual, dragons wouldn’t have a head.  And it would be a bad, bad thing to have giant lizards, many of them only theoretically controlled, fanning out over the world and doing what they pleased to the non-shifting mass of humanity.

He felt his dragon-mouth adjust into unfamiliar shapes, as sounds came out of it, “I am the Great Sky Dragon,” he said, knowing he lied, but not caring just then.  “He is not dead.  He lives.”

As though in a ceremony in the church Tom had attended as a child, the audience seemed to have an instinctive reaction to this.

One on one, the shining bodies that made the parking lot look as though it were covered in a patchwork of shining, bejeweled cloth, dipped, as each dragon knelt his front legs and lowered his powerful neck and massive head towards the asphalt in a sign of respect.

Almost every dragon.  At the back, two, dark blue and huge, stood defiant, staring Tom in the eye.

* * *

Bea had gone to bed in the little loft bedroom which she, privately, thought of as “eagle’s nest.”  There was no reason to think of it that way and, on the face of it, it was a stupid designation, since she understood eagle nests were made of the usual twigs and stuff, and this space was as neat or neater than the rest of the house.

It was also, she understood, peculiarly Rafiel’s.

Over dinner, he’d told her that — as fond as he was of the house where he and his parents lived, in Goldport — all his favorite memories of childhood were bound up in this cabin, because when they were here, his often-busy father wasn’t distracted with police work or anything else, but was free to spend time with Rafiel.  And his mother who, in town, worked as a librarian and rarely had time for home cooking, much less baking, would bake endless batches of cookies and treats.  And Rafiel would be free to roam around the surrounding forest, after having been instructed on how to avoid dangers.

They’d come here, he told Bea, a lot of weekends, but also two solid weeks every summer, and about the like time at Christmas.  And because they were usually here on weekends when he was growing up — unless his father were working over the weekend — most of Rafiel’s hobbies and leisure stuff from when he was a kid were up here.

It seemed to be true.  She noted a telescope in a corner, which would have been fun — would probably still be fun — if one opened the skylight and pointed the telescope at it.  She noted, too, an assembled Lego robot of some sort in a corner.  And there were walkie talkies tucked in the same corner.

Not that there were many toys.  It was clear what remained must have had special significance to Rafiel and had stayed behind while the rest was discarded or put in storage.  What there was now in the room seemed to make it a comfortable retreat for a busy man.  One of the walls, short, at the end of the sloping ceiling, was bookcases, made of polished pine was double-stacked with colorful mystery paperbacks.

Agatha Christie, Carolynn Hart, and a lot of other names she recognized on scanning.  She would have to look at them more carefully during the day, she decided, but she felt oddly tired — perhaps by the drive, and the night air of the forest.

Or perhaps, she thought ruefully, it was that she had died and come back to life.  Seemed like an activity that would tire anyone out.

She shook her head.  No.  This was no time to think about it.  But it was no time to read either.  She felt lax and relaxed as she hadn’t been in a long time. Perhaps — of course — it was the very excellent bottle of Chianti that Rafiel had unearthed and opened for them after dinner.  That could be that, since she rarely drank and usually not half a bottle.

But now, her job was to get in a nightgown and in bed.  Rafiel had brought her a nightgown, still in plastic packaging, explaining, “No, it’s not my mom’s.  Mom and dad keep nightgowns, pajamas and t-shirts out here in about every size for when they have parties, so that if people drink too much mom can persuade them to stay overnight.”

The nightgown was actually a large-size t-shirt emblazoned with “Goldport Colorado, the Golden city.”

“I think mom bought them bulk when the city was changing designs or something,” he said.  “Anyway, there’s new toothbrushes in the drawer in your bathroom, and there should be toiletries in the cabinet under the sink.”

There was all that, and Bea laid out the night gown, brushed her teeth and took a long and reassuringly warm shower, before crawling into bed beneath a homey quilt.

Drifting to sleep, she hoped that Rafiel’s mom would get through to her parents.  And in the next moment, she was stark awake, with a message — no, a need — running through her head.

There were no words in it, or at least no words she recognized, but it was an imperative order.  She must get out of bed.  She must shift.  She must fly in the direction the need pulled her.

If the feelings in her had words, the words would be: The Great Sky Dragon has died.  The Great Sky dragon lives forever.  Every dragon within wing-reach of him must pay homage.

She had a fleeting thought that she couldn’t shift.  It was less than twenty four hours since she’d been dead.  And yet…  And yet, she must shift, the imperative was that serious.

The pangs of shifting twisted her muscles, as her bones tried to change shape.  If she didn’t obey the need, her body would do it anyway, and she would shift here, and be wedged in this room, possibly breaking half the furniture.

With all her will power, she held off the shift, as her hand found the button that Rafiel had shown her, the one that opened the skylight above.  The colder night air hit her on the face, as she stripped the nightgown.

Even standing on the bed, the skylight was impossibly above Bea’s reach.  She grabbed Rafiel’s desk chair and, with an apology to the sheets, set it on top the bed.  At least she wasn’t setting the chair on top of the quilt and risking tearing it.

Climbing on the chair, unsteady upon the mattress, she managed to grasp the edges of the skylight.  Pushing with her feet to get a better grip made the chair fall from under her, crashing sideways onto the floor.

It left her suspended from her hands from the skylight.  Fortunately, she was not a normal woman.

If there’s one thing growing wings does, Bea thought.  It’s to give you a set of arm muscles that would give Olympic lifters a case of envy.

She lifted her feet in a graceful gesture that would have made gymnasts cry.  And then, planting her bare feet against the side of the skylight, she pulled herself out, until she was stark naked, standing on the roof of the log cabin beside the skylight.

For a moment, she wondered what she would say if Rafiel appeared down in the room, or down in front of the cabin and asked what she was doing.

Fortunately the question didn’t arise.  Almost immediately her body started hurting for real, as breath was knocked out of her body by her muscles and bones twisting and changing, and by wings extending, strong as silk, translucent as a clouds from her shoulders.

She had barely changed when, the drive in her demanding it, she took to the sky, wings outspread.