|The Dragon, the Rock, and the Wanderer.
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
It was early in the year, nature was bursting back into life, and today was Wanderer's birthday. Another birthday as he grew older, and his dreams faded a little more. More work, more worries about his mother, more memories of the good old fun days when the TSA-talk list was a place of silliness. Fondly he remembered the two Summer Series, things that were now impossible given the large membership roster of the list.
Time passes, things change, and you can't go back again. He sighed.
As usual, he was taking a short cut through a small forested area. It'd been set aside as a nature preserve, and everybody thought it was great to get back to nature. Wanderer knew better though -- it wasn't nature, it was a plantation to humanity's arrogance, a monument to their belief that they could create a safe pleasant nice nature for their amusement.
With another sigh he kicked a rock, listening to it clatter and bounce off the path and into the bright green brush.
Wanderer stopped, and looked into the brush. Ow? He stopped. "I won't hurt you--"
"You could have fooled me!"
Wanderer took a step back as a little black dragon forced its way out of the brush, rubbing its forehead.
"How's a dragon supposed to take a nap if people kick rocks at it? And it was my birthday too!"
"Your birthday? It's mine too, for what it's worth. Anyway, I'm sorry. I didn't see you."
"Of course you didn't! What do you think I am, a dog or something?"
"I didn't know what you were. Is there anything--?"
"You can do to help?" The little dragon spit a burst of flame onto the path in front of Wanderer. "Pah! Well, it was an accident, so don't you worry about it. Besides, it's your birthday. Consider me not roasting and eating you your present."
Wanderer couldn't help but take another step back, at which point the little dragon burst out laughing, rolling on its back and blowing out little smoke rings as its tummy jiggled and gurgled.
Wanderer kept slowly stepping back, not sure whether it was better to stand, or to try and run whilst the dragon was laughing. He still hadn't made up his mind when the dragon finally got control of itself.
"Can't you take a joke?! Sheesh! Humans these days!"
"I don't have much experience with dragons. You could say that I'm just wyrmning."
The dragon groaned at that.
Wanderer smiled and continued, "Although, with your flame, I must say that I'm finding today an en-light-ening experience."
"If you keep that up, I may just eat you after all."
"I wouldn't want our meeting to keep drag-on-ing on--"
The dragon snorted and grinned. "You can call me Draven, and you've made me laugh more than I have in a century. Tell ya what, if you hold off on the puns--"
Wanderer look hurt.
"--I'll pretend you caught me and forced me to give you a wish."
"But I didn't--"
"If I don't give that as the reason, I'll have to deal with piles and piles of paperwork!"
"Given you're fiery nature, doesn't the paper just en-flame you enough to ash them to go away?"
"Last warning birthday boy!"
Wanderer tried to look sheepish, but the grin on his face destroyed the effect.
"Let's see now-- what do you want-- ooooooo! That's different! Well, so let it be written, so let it be done!"
Wanderer had only enough time to blink, before he felt his body twisting and bending. His clothes vanished, gray and white and black fur blossomed out covering his body. His legs and arms shortened, feet and hands became paws tipped with wicked claws, and a hairy muzzle burst out of his face as his ears decided to pack up and move to the top of his head. Before you could say 'no more puns', the human Wanderer was no more, and standing in his place was a young adult gray wolf.
For an instant Wanderer just stood there, and then a million scents burst upon him, followed by a thousand sounds he'd never heard before. His vision paled as he suddenly knew that a pair of raccoons lived over there, and a squirrel had been digging some nuts just off the path, and that Draven really needed to take a bath.
For a timeless moment Wanderer just stood there, drinking in the sensations, feeling the slight breeze ruffle his fur, drinking in the scents of the world in great gulping gasps. But, as the initial ecstasy faded into acceptance, he grew sadder than he'd been before.
Wanderer wasn't alone in the world, he had a life, family, friends, a mother who needed him. He realized that, even with his dream in his grasp, he couldn't just leave them.
Looking at the little dragon, he whined.
"Is something wrong? You can speak if you want to -- I'll understand."
"Dragon-- Draven-- please restore-- change me back."
"What? Isn't this something you've always wanted?"
Sadly Wanderer nodded, even that slight movement changing the texture of scents drenching his nostrils. "I-- I can't."
"It's free, no catches, no obligations."
Wanderer lay down on the path, resting his head on his forelegs. "You don't understand-- I have friends, family. They'll miss-- I can't just desert them--"
For a while Draven just looked at Wanderer, little puffs of smoke leaving his nostrils as birds twittered in the trees high above and new leaves rustled in the breeze. "I can change you back, but you likely won't get another chance. Are you sure?"
Whining, Wanderer forced himself to slowly nod.
Draven shrugged. "Well, it is your birthday."
And with that, Wanderer felt his body stretch and grow, warm fur being sucked back into his skin, indecisive ears packing their bags again and moving back down to the side of his head, and his muzzle collapsing in on itself. And then Wanderer, the human, was back in his world of sight and flat scentlessness. Wanderer the very sad human, for, as everybody knows, it is better to dream a dream and never have it, than to have a dream and then lose it.
"I wouldn't have bet on it you know," Draven said.
"Bet on what?"
"You thinking of others before yourself. Here I thought all humans were selfish."
"Too many are."
"Well, you've made your choice."
Sadly Wanderer nodded.
The little black dragon waddled back into the brush and then came back holding the rounded stone Wanderer had kicked. "Here."
Wanderer reached and took it.
"Don't lose it. When you're ready, put it in your mouth and hold it there, and then the wolf in you will be let out again."
"Eat rock. Transform into wolf. Got it?"
Mutely Wanderer nodded, his sadness slowly blossoming into a smile.
"Just don't lose it. Got it?"
"And try and keep the puns down." And, with that, the dragon waddled back into the brush and vanished.
Wanderer shook his head and laughed, looking at the rock. Looking at his dream.
A lot of him didn't believe it, but hope burned inside him, and, somehow, he knew the dragon had told him the truth.
So, carefully pocketing the rock, Wanderer happily whistled a merry tune, and continued on his way.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org