A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Anna Saxon
When our blades met for the first time, I knew my brother was holding back.
“Don’t,” I told him, and his grin grew wild. He began slashing and thrusting, left and right, up and down, and I was laughing. I did nothing with my own sword for I was not as skilled and he moved too quickly.
In a single moment, it seemed, he slashed too forcefully and tripped forward, regaining his balance without the sword in his hands. I heard him call my name as I fell backward.
Suddenly I was hearing the cries of my mother and father, the shouts of my other siblings, and the boom of thunder as lightning lit up a night sky.
The next moment, the shouting stopped. Now I find myself somewhere entirely different than home. The lightning and thunder continue around me, rain starting to surge down from above. My eyes are blurry, unfocused and dancing wildly about, trying to make sense of the dark scene as stone ground trembles beneath my feet. I can make out the hilt of a blade extending away from my ribs.
Suddenly my figure contorts itself to the rocks below, a jolt of pain emanating from my left breast. I try to stand up, to move my arms, my legs, even just a finger. But I can do nothing. My body is no longer under my control.
Panic rises within me as I struggle against my invisible bonds and something hot begins to drip down my chest onto my abdomen. What is that? I cannot look. I order myself to stay calm, but still, the swell of horror spills into my stomach, my chest, my limbs, my head, filling them and escaping through my eyes and nose and mouth.
Enough! I scream though I make no real sound. I must be strong. I must get back to my family.
And I would have adhered to this assertion more heartily, had I not found out, at that exact moment, that I was not alone.
A dragon with scales like a woven hide of shadows, with eyes the deep color of midnight skies and mourning clothes, and a sinewy body that seeps from the gloom as if it had once been contained by the ink in a bottle, but a clumsy hand had reached and struck it, allowing the beast to escape. She flares her ebony wings, lightning illuminating the heavens above and silhouetting elaborate vein networks running throughout the thin membranes. She fixes a piercing gaze onto me as if stripping me away layer by layer to gaze at my very soul. She is not sinister, no. She is cold. Indifferent, but here with a purpose.
My heart pumps frantically and my lungs struggle to inflate. The rain begins to come in sheets and my ears ache as the reverberation of thunder matches the roar of the pouring rain. Terror shoots through my body like the lightning explodes through the endless expanse of sky. It spurs me to defend myself. To run away. To scream. To never lay eyes upon this awe-inspiring, horror-inducing beast again. But I cannot. I’m still immobile. Stuck. Some unknown power still has me in its clutches.
Peace, Cordella. A single voice calls out my name, clear, deep and rumbling, greater even than the din of the storm around me. How did I hear it? I do not know.
That must be the dragon’s voice—I know it is. How can she know my name? I did not see her move her mouth to speak aloud. It was as if she spoke within my thoughts. How can she put her words into my head? I stare, petrified, into the dragon’s eye before me.
I have heard tales of dragons. I remember the stories my brother would narrate, where dragons take hold of humans’ minds. In some cases the outcome was favorable: like when the hero ran away with only one lost limb, perhaps after slaying the beast. Other times, I have heard, the dragon simply descends upon a home to pluck a victim, and the captive is thenceforth considered dead. The reason behind a dragon attack is not common knowledge; my brother would usually fill in this information with his own fanciful thoughts.
But how can these recollections be a comfort when there is a dragon standing right here in front of me? When it seems I myself am the subject of a dragon horror story?
This time, the alarm rises up inside me before I can barricade it. It tries to escape through my open lips, but the thunder masks the sound.
No. I cannot be cowardly. I cannot grovel in fear simply because of my brother’s tall tales. I struggle against the power ensnaring my body, my chest dripping, my intake of breath dragging, rattling. Something in my core begins to heat as rain pushes its way into my eyes and nostrils.
Did I not command you to be at peace? The dragon’s voice rumbles in my head again, and my heart beats quickly—too quickly—like a cluster of galloping hooves.
Do not worry, little one, she says, seemingly amused. She shifts on her talons and tilts her head to the side, as if to get a better look at me. Your Time has come.
Then suddenly the presence of the dragon fades and I feel a release on my mind, an image materializing in my vision. It is myself, back at home with my family.
For a moment all I feel is an overwhelming sense of relief. My eldest brother cradles someone’s head in his arms, my father at his side and my mother and siblings surrounding them. I almost smile and laugh at their unity, taking a step forward, about to open my mouth to make a jest. But then I notice.
Blood is everywhere. It is coming from the person in my brother’s arms. Who is it? My siblings shift, and I see.
The blood—it is coming from me.
I am the person in my brother’s arms.
A sword sticks out of my upper ribcage and red flows from it, painting my clothes and my brother’s hands. I see I am splayed awkwardly across the ground, my head on brother’s lap, the dirt underneath me turning into reddened clumps of mud. My brother is weeping, rocking himself back and forth over me, my father standing close, stunned. I hear my mother singing, crying.
Heads veiled with doctors’ masks come up from behind, surrounding my family, speaking quietly if at all. They endeavor to wrest my brother away from me, struggling as he cries out, trying to push them off. When they remove him, their hands lift me gently to a wooden cart.
Now my head begins to feel as if it will explode like my eyes have seen too much and are filling my skull with all the blood that pours from my wound. I see my body there, but I feel my body here.
I look down—and I am transparent. I see through my own limbs and torso, I see through the sword in my ribs, through to the ground. But I feel myself stand behind my family and the doctors and the cart, watching myself bleed.
I struggle to catch my breath, my shoulders rising and falling faster and faster as the scene unfolds. My brother falls to his knees, calling me. No one objects, no one tries to pull the sword out. Why don’t they? Why don’t they remove the blade, stop the blood, something?
I want to cry out, cry out to the faces behind the doctor’s masks and beg them to do something, to save me—to put me back into one body, and to end the seemingly endless stream of red that is coming from me on the cart, so that I can be with my family, comfort them. But all at once I am torn away from the doctors and my family, spiraling back into cold the presence of the dragon.
A scream is trapped in my throat, and I feel myself try to fling my limbs outwards, as if to regain some sort of balance. And this time, I feel the freedom to move, finding that I am no longer ensnared by invisible bonds. Immediately I go to grasp the blade, to draw it out of my flesh, and then to flee back to my family.
But. . .my arms. I have no arms.
Where are they?
I look down. And I see only light. I no longer see a body; I no longer see even transparent limbs. Only a shining area of light where my body once stood.
Where is my body?
“Where? Where is it?” The words screech out of my mouth before I can contain them. I hear screaming, over and over again. Am I screaming? I do not know. I want to vomit, but I cannot. There is no body to be able to vomit.
I do not have my body.
The dragon remains silent, only fixing her great eyes upon me.
“Put me back,” I scream again, again, at her, sudden anger clawing over me and making my vision go scarlet.
The dragon lowers her head.
It is your Time. You must come with me now.
She starts to approach me, and the landscape becomes suddenly different, darker. A look of frustration—worry—crosses her scaly face as I begin to hear another voice, murmuring urgently. Surely, that is not the dragon. What is the voice saying? I cannot tell. The dragon rustles her wings as she treads toward me, speaking over it.
You must come with me. No one can escape their Death. But then I hear only the murmuring voice. The ground begins to tremble so forcefully I fear I will tip over. Then I remember that my body has gone.
“No,” I choke. I will not be this dragon’s next victim. I close my eyes, praying that I will live, that I will make it away and see my family again.
When I open my eyes, I am nearly blinded.
Light floods my view and the dragon vanishes, the scenario changing so instantaneously, I find myself dizzy.
“Cordella…Cordella…” The voice calls my name, syllables of the word dropping into silence as they are spoken. Is that my brother’s voice?
“Cordella!” I hear again, with more clarity, coming into a state of conscious enough to feel my garments are wet, sticking to my body.
I tremble violently as a chilliness spreads through my extremities.
Another flash lights up my vision. Once again the dragon is before me, staring coldly into my pale face.
You have escaped my clutches this time, little one. But I will return. One day you will be mine.
Then she is gone, and I am left only with darkness and the murmuring voice.
“I’m sorry, it was a mistake; I didn’t mean to,” the voice cries. “Please, wake up!”
My eyes fly open, my lungs empty, and I try to suck in air. My brother is crying, reaching out towards me as I lay on the wooden cart, the sword still lodged between the bones in my chest.
“Where did she go? Where did the dragon go?” I struggle to keep air in my lungs, the hilt of the sword rising and falling with each shallow breath. Doctors and family form a circle around me, their faces white and their eyes red. My brother takes a step toward me, then collapses, sobbing, across me.
“The dragon—where is it?” I reach out for my brother’s hand, for comfort. He takes it, crying softly, and whispers to me.
“Rest, sister, rest.”
And suddenly I understand, with complete clarity of mind: My brother’s tales of dragons are wrong. There is only one dragon. One dragon and I have just met her.
She is called Death.