Saturday, February 26, 2011

Daddy Dreams

My dad took me flying yesterday. I could feel his smooth cool scales under me and the wind in my face. The soft snap of his wingtips as he gained altitude. And I could hear his deep voice with the faint British accent teaching me about thermals and wind currents, and to watch out for the sucking winds near storm clouds that could lift me up higher than I could breathe in seconds.

I dreamt about Dad again and again as I slept. Memories of things that we did came back in sharp clarity, and fantasies of things I'd always wanted to do with him but never got the chance. It's been so long since Dad was murdered that sometimes I have a hard time remembering his face. But these dreams were so vivid that I woke up with the scent of his favorite pipe tobacco in my nose. I cried when I realized they were just dreams, and he was still gone.

It's probably because of Fafnir and Vlad. For the first time in my life, I've got other dragons around me. That brought the memories back, I guess. I just wish they wouldn't fade away again. I'll write down as much as I can.

The first one was the memory of that first time Dad took me flying. I was five, I think. He took me up in the hayloft in the barn, and put me on his back like a piggy back ride. He climbed a ladder on the outside of the window where he used to throw hay to the cattle. I was really scared and held on tight.

Then he shifted into his scaly form while I was still on his back, spread his wings wide, and jumped off the peak of the roof. I squealed in terror, then in delight as I realized we were flying. The house and barn were at the top of a steep hill. In one direction, we had neighbors a half mile or so away. In the other, there was our own 600 acres of ranch land, and another, several thousand acre ranch on the other side. That was where we flew, where no one could see but the livestock. There were creeks that never ran completely dry and flooded their banks sometimes, round mirrors of ponds and furry green cedar and oak forests, steep hillsides and open fields. I loved the pecan grove on the bottomland by the creek most of all, where the trees grew tall enough to climb as high as the barn. Dad and Ma pretty much let me have the run of the place the whole time I was growing up, and I never got lost anywhere near our land because I could always remember where everything was after seeing it from above while on my Dad’s back.

I tried to fly myself when I was seven. I climbed the ladder from the hayloft to the roof and jumped off, tiny wings spread wide. But I didn’t fly, I fell hard, and cut my wing open on a plow blade in the process. I screamed and cried until my dad came and held my delicate little wing membranes together while he poked me with a fang just under the joint between my wrist and first wing bone. His fang made a sharp sting, and then the pain in my wing disappeared and I watched in fascination, tears drying on my cheeks while my wing mended itself like magic. My dad was a magical man who could fix anything.

He said I was too young to fly yet, but he was proud of me that I was brave enough to jump off the high roof like that.

He moved the plow and we piled up a whole bunch of loose hay there instead. I spent the rest of the day climbing onto the barn roof and jumping off gleefully wings spread wide to sploof into the pile of soft hay, while he watched over me and laughed. Eventually, he got up there and jumped as well while still in human form. We took turns until we were both exhausted.

Ma came out, wiping her hands on her apron, to tell us dinner was ready just as I’d made another final trip up the ladder and Dad lay exhausted in the hay. I said, “Look, Ma, I can fly!” and jumped.  She nearly had a heart attack as I plummeted into the hay next to Dad. She gave Dad what for and didn’t mince words either. Dad looked all sheepish and contrite, like he’d been caught stealing bacon before breakfast. Then he looked at me and winked. I grinned.  Ma stumbled to a stop in her tirade, and finally just shook her head. “It’s like raising two little kids sometimes, I swear.” She made me promise not to do it unless she or Dad were around to make sure it was safe. I promised, but it became my favorite game, and Dad and Ma both got accustomed to me jumping off the roof, flapping my little wings like mad, and made sure to add more straw to that pile whenever the cows nibbled it down.

When I was older, maybe 10, I overshot the pile of hay by 10 feet and landed with a crash on hard packed clay next to Dad who had been mending a saddle and watching me play. I broke my arm and two wing bones, and it hurt like heck, but I was getting old enough that it was a matter of pride not to cry over a mere injury. Besides, I was shocked more than I was in pain. The only way I could have missed the hay pile was if I flew, even if just a little.

Dad didn’t look concerned or even surprised.

He just walked over, nodded like I’d said something he agreed with or expected, and started straightening out my broken bones. That hurt, a lot, but he did it quick. The tears came whether I wanted them to or not, and then he bit me in that same spot just under my wrist, and the pain went away.

“It will be a few days before your bones are solid again. Then, it’ll be time for your first real flying lesson.”

I forgot all about the pain in my sudden rush of excitement. “You’re going to teach me how to fly?”

“No, little plum. Flying is easy. You’ll naturally get better at it as your wings mature.” He tousled my unruly thick mop of purple hair. “I’m going to teach you how to land.”

And he did.

So many things he taught me of a world I would never know. He told me stories at bedtime of dragons who were the wise men, healers, druids and wizards of the old world. He loved to tell stories about his father Merlin, a dragon who was ancient when Rome was a dream, and what it was like growing up as a young English knight. He taught me how to ride a horse when I was seven, how to hunt with a rifle, and snare wild game when I was nine, how to rope cattle when I was 13, what to watch for to tell when people were lying when I was 14, and he taught me what real pain was like when I found him dead later that same year. I was such a daddy’s girl, until they took my daddy from me.

White Knight is the only Georgian I’ve ever known of. And right now, while I’m sitting here in the middle of the day, dripping tears on my diary and wishing I could have gone on dreaming, I hate him. I’ve felt fear before, fear that the Georgians would find me and kill me and hurt Ma. I’ve lived with that fear most of my life. But until now, my enemies were faceless, and terrifying simply because they were complete unknowns. It’s hard to hate an unknown.  Now, my enemies have a face, and I know that bitter acid feeling in my belly is what real hate feels like.

D Dragon

Dinner with Dracula

I had dinner with Dracula today. Or, breakfast, I guess, since it was after my shift was over in the morning, but my brain tends to think of that as dinner since I eat it after work and before going to bed. Working graveyard shift can really mess with your biological clock.
In any case, Jack and I had just finished cleaning up the bodies at a motorcycle-meets-18-wheeler accident on I35. The couple on the bike were way past saving when we got there. I was feeling tired, and a little depressed. Jack hugged me in the parking lot just before he got in his car and that helped a little.
Right after Jack drove off, this guy came up behind me all quiet and wearing black, and invaded my personal space. I spun and hit him in the chest, an open palm strike since I didn’t intend to kill a random mugger. It was enough to take him off his feet and land him on his back on the hood of a parked car, but he didn’t seem hurt at all. He laughed.
Now, I did pull the punch, but generally, when I hit someone, they don’t laugh.
He apologized for “startling me” and offered to buy me dinner at the Omelettry. I asked him who he was and he did this old fashioned bow. “I am Vlad Dracul” and he had the accent, too, that eastern European accent that folks always use when they pretend to be vampires.
I told him he was a little late for Halloween.
He grinned and showed me fangs. Not movie quality fakes like I half expected. Fangs like mine, long and needle sharp that folded back beside the top teeth when not in use. He was a dragon.
More precisely, he was the guy in Houston that Fafnir told me about. He said the guy’s name was Vlad and he was young, “only 700 years old" or so. Fafnir has some funny ideas about what qualifies as young. But aside from that, we hadn’t really talked about the other dragon in Houston much. I was too busy asking him questions like “Will my scales cover my whole body eventually, even my face?” (Fafnir said yes, probably, but that I should be able to master the “turn into a normal human” trick before then. I sure hope he’s right.)
So, Dracula bought me dinner. He seems like a nice enough guy, not really what I would have expected from someone most famous for impaling hundreds of people to death in his younger days. He said he and Bram Stoker got drunk together one night, and he blabbed some stuff he shouldn’t have, and that’s how the whole Dracula legend thing got going. (There are good reasons why I don’t drink, aside from the fact that alcohol smells vile.)
Vlad’s pretty good-looking in a sort of Euro polished, well-dressed, slightly gay kind of way. Not that I think he is gay, he just has that sexy but fay kind of vibe. He flirted with me unrelentingly all through the meal, so pretty sure he’s not gay. He looks about 25 and has really pretty dark eyes with thick lashes. Reminds me a little of Johnny Depp.
I didn’t let him kiss me afterward. Jack’s my guy, and I’m no two-timer. He kissed my hand instead. He said he’d call me now that we were acquainted. Fafnir gave him my number.  I think I just had my second date, at least he seemed to think it was a date. Not sure how I feel about this guy, but he is a dragon, and the way Fafnir figures things, we’re sort of the same age.
He’s got me feeling confused about things I thought I was finally getting straight.
D Dragon

Chaos Inside and Out

Sometimes I think that writing things down in my diary is the only thing keeping me sane. I’m going to have to send a thank you letter to that shrink with the broken leg who recommended I talk things out with a blank page if I couldn’t talk to people about what was stressing me out.
It’s not Jack stressing me. He’s been great. Things are a little less casual and easygoing between us at work, but it’s because there’s always this little flutter just under the surface. It’s kind of awkward and nervy, but in a good way. Him knowing my secret has made my job a lot simpler. I don’t have to remember to try to pretend I can’t lift heavy stuff. If we need a big piece of equipment, Jack just assumes I’ll grab it, and he grabs the other stuff. If we get a patient who might not make it with conventional help, Jack keeps watch for me so I can bite them without being seen. He even distracted a conscious patient with a crushed leg for me last shift, and convinced the guy I was giving him an injection. Thanks to Jack, that guy will walk again, on both legs. I may have taken a while to get around to picking a guy to date, but I seem to be pretty good at picking them.
I guess work might be part of what’s making me want to put my fist through a wall. Lord Vile’s goons went on a rampage and half the city looks like a war zone. I saw the White Knight in the thick of the fight a few times while Jack and I were on the sidelines trying to keep the civilian casualties to a minimum. I know the Knight’s a Georgian and he’d kill me without hesitation if he knew what I was, but seeing him fight Vile’s red-shirted, black goggled minions and protect bystanders, I don’t know. I just kept thinking that if I had let Fafnir kill him, those bystanders would be dead, and the Protectors would be short one front line soldier. I may not like the guy, but this city needs him.
Jack and I have been working double shifts all week because of the chaos, so no chance for a second date yet. The flowers he brought me are still bright and beautiful on my dresser. And they remind me that for once in my life, I’m not alone. There’s one person I can really talk to.  More than one, even.
I called Fafnir the other morning when I was too wired to sleep after my shift. He has a heavy Norwegian accent that makes it a little hard to understand him, but he’s been really helpful. Fafnir treats me like an indulgent uncle with a five-year-old who is constantly asking questions like “Why is the sky blue?” He answers, but laughs at me a lot for asking things he thinks of as kindergarten basic. I’m just starting to get an inkling of how incredibly old he is, so I guess it’s normal for him to think of me as a kid. Annoying, but normal.
So, if working every day with my new boyfriend, a supervillain mob attack on the city, and being treated like a baby by the only other member of my species that I've met isn’t stressing me, you might wonder what is? Ma. She’s making me nuts. She’s a nervous wreck and it’s contagious. Plus, we've just never been this completely at loggerheads before.
She asked about my date when I got home the other night, and I made the mistake of telling her what happened. All of it. It was pretty hard to tell her about Fafnir falling through the ceiling without explaining what knocked him out of the sky. Now that she knows the White Knight is a Georgian, she has all her things packed and keeps harping on me to pull up stakes and leave town. She’s already contacted our usual guy to get us new ID’s and such.
I think it’s the first time in our relationship that I’ve put my foot down and just said, “No.”
I’m not moving.
Ma is way too old to deal with all the hassles of losing our trail, finding a new place to settle and establishing new identities. She won’t admit it, but her health isn’t the best and another move might finish her. But even if that wasn’t all true, I don’t want to run again.
I like it here. I’ve got a job where I get to use my special abilities to save lives on a daily basis. I’m not wearing a costume and getting medals and endorsement deals like the Protectors and the All American Alliance heroes, but there are a lot of folks in this town who are breathing and whole because of me, and I’m proud of that.
And those flowers over there on my dresser are another good reason to stay. Guys like Jack who can take my differences in stride don’t grow on trees. For the first time in my life, there’s one person I’m not related to that I can be myself around. I’m just starting to appreciate how much that means.
Ma says that if one Georgian knows who I am, then they all do, but I don’t think the White Knight saw my scales or my wing, either at the theatre, or when we were fighting that fire thrower. He was pretty preoccupied with Fafnir, and the fire guy. I’ve told her that, but since I’m only 90% sure, Ma doesn’t think that’s good enough. I'm also 90% sure that if the White Knight knew that I was a dragon, he’s got enough info about me, from the side of the ambulance, to find me. And he hasn’t come after me. So, I figure I’ve got an edge. I know what he is, but he doesn’t know what I am. As long as it stays that way, I’m not going anywhere.
And, if he figures it out, well, then, we’ll see. For the first time, I’ve got something worth staying and fighting for. It’s going to take a lot to make me run this time.
D Dragon

Dragon's First Date

He kissed me! Or, I guess, I kissed him. It doesn’t really matter, does it?
A whole bunch of other stuff happened first. I guess I should start at the beginning.
Jack picked me up. He brought me flowers, purple and white striped lilies and red roses mixed together in a square glass vase. He nailed my favorite colors and scents, and he even brought chocolate-covered strawberries for Ma. She grinned and hugged him, and told him that she knew her little girl would pick a smart man. I couldn't help but roll my eyes. I'm passed 60, I can lift her car, and I'm dating now, and she still calls me her "little girl."
I’ve seen Jack face supervillains, gang fights, and 6 car pileups without missing a beat, but he took one look at me in my new purple dress and forgot how to close his mouth. I guess I look pretty good for sixty-three. I'm definitely not a little girl anymore.
Jack promised Ma he’d have me home by 1 as if I were a high school girl going to prom. Kinda felt like it. Or, at least how I imagined it. I never got to go to prom, or high school.
We were supposed to have dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Unfortunately, the wait was like 2 hours, and that was with us getting there at 6. We’d have missed the movie. So, we went to Big Bite instead. The wait was only 15 mins. Not exactly a romantic atmosphere with the shiny steel tables and all, but they have great fried cheese, steak and chicken wings.
It felt a little weird, sitting there with Jack on a date. Jack and I talk together all the time normally, and it’s easy and comfortable, but last night, I felt really awkward. Same guy, same place that we grab lunch at 3 AM all the time, but I suddenly felt incredibly shy, tripped over my tongue and dropped food on my lap. I worried constantly that my dress would shift and some of my scales would show, or that I had bits of chicken in my teeth. He kept asking me about where I went to school, where I grew up, and stuff that I carefully never talk about. I guess that’s a normal date thing, to ask about your date’s past.
So, I got him talking about his childhood instead. That helped. Apparently, his branch of the Nguyen family used to be Vietnamese royalty. His mom and dad were refugees from the Vietnam war. His parents had to leave when things heated up for fear of reprisals.
Without thinking, I told him I protested the war. Talk about foot in mouth. I covered it by saying that I meant that I would have protested the war if I’d been around then, but it didn’t sound too convincing.
It was a huge relief when dinner was finally over, and we went to the movie. Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It had been out for a while, but I hadn’t gotten to see it yet. I loved the books when they first came out when I was a little girl. Dad used to read them to me. Jack and I had the theatre completely to ourselves so we got the prime seats with the railing in front, just behind the front section. Seeing Reepicheep on the screen was super cool. But I hate the thing with Eustace turning into a dragon because he was greedy and petty. It’s such an ugly stereotype. I mean, I like jewelry as much as the next girl, maybe a bit more than some, but seriously, I know a lot of humans that are a lot greedier. Greed isn't only a dragon specific trait.
I tried to explain to Jack why it pissed me off that dragons were always portrayed as greedy and vicious, and he agreed with me. Apparently, in Vietnam, legends of dragons are all noble and beneficial. He said he just didn’t understand why western dragons seemed to be prone to eating virgins and burning villages.
I knew I liked him.
Then he put his arm around me and I flinched away and pushed him off. He could have felt my scales under the thin fabric of the dress. He looked really rejected, and I just didn’t know what to tell him. I stumbled all over myself apologizing, but there wasn’t anything I could say that would make shoving my date away okay.
He asked me again why I asked him out, and I had to wonder myself what in the world I was thinking. How did I expect to have a date like a normal person, when I couldn’t even let a guy put his arm around me? All I could think was what a huge mistake this was.
And then the roof just fell in. I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. A chunk of the roof collapsed and crashed into the rows of seats. A good sized beam headed straight for me and Jack. I threw up my left arm, the one with the solid scales and threw my body over Jack. I caught the beam hard on my forearm and deflected it behind us. I mentally wrote off the pretty new dress and unfolded my left wing. It ripped through the delicate fabric and I draped it over me and Jack like the roof of a tent.
My wing bones are slender but strong as steel and covered in tiny metal scales that almost nothing can penetrate, and the wing skin is a lot tougher than normal skin, more like really tough boot leather, only thin and stretchy like a trampoline. Big chunks of plaster and concrete fell on my wing, but under it, Jack was safe. Our eyes met for just a second under that shelter, and I knew there were no more secrets between us. I was horrified. Now that Jack knew what a freak I was, I’d have to find a new job, move to a new city, and Ma was getting too old to pick up and move again.
“It’s okay, Dee,” Jack said. “It’s just me.”
Then a huge red and black dragon fell through the roof and landed, panting in pain in the space in front of us between the rows. He had a long bleeding slice through the membrane on one wing and a few minor cuts in his scales. I’d never seen anything that could cut through dragon scales.
A dragon.  An actual member of my own species. He was the first dragon I’d seen in the nearly 50 years since Dad died. I was dumbfounded. I said something really brilliant like, “You’re a dragon!”
The dragon said, “What gave you your first clue, Sherlock,” in a heavy accent, and scrambled to his feet. Then he actually spared a glance to look at me, saw my wing still partially extended over Jack, and did a double-take. A double-take looks really funny on a massive dragon. “You’re a dragon!” he said, and I didn’t feel nearly so stupid.
I folded my wing up, since no more chunks were falling and jumped over the railing. “You’re actually a dragon!” Okay, so it was even more stupid to say it twice, but cut me some slack. It had been a long time since I saw another dragon.
“I think we’re passed that, milady. I’m Fafnir Drage." He folded his wings, and bowed. "And you are?”
“Damson Dragon. Most people just call me Dee.”
I shook his huge clawed and fully scaled hand, or at least one finger of it. He managed to look surprised, even with a face covered in scales and his mouth extended to a snout to hold all the teeth. “I didn’t know there were any women of our kind on this continent. The Georgians have been quite, um, efficient, here.”
“Yeah, they got my dad.”
“Speak of the devil,” Fafnir said, and down dropped an all too familiar figure in a white tabard and silver scale armor carrying a shield with a knight skewering a dragon. White Knight. I so should have known that guy was a Georgian. He slid down a rope belayed around his waist and landed in the aisle, cast the rope aside, and drew the big sword that I’d always seen him wear on TV, but never seen him actually use. Guess I know what can cut through dragon scales, and what put that big slash in Fafnir's wing.
He said, “And now you die, foul beast,” or something really clichéd like that and charged down one of the aisles straight at the big red and black dragon, right past Jack.
Fafnir bared his fangs and pushed me behind him, so I missed seeing what happened next. But I heard it. There was a loud crackling sound, and I jumped out from behind the red scaly wall of Fafnir's back just in time to see the White Knight on the ground unconscious and twitching.  Jack stood behind him holding a taser and grinning. That scale armor does conduct electricity pretty well.
Fafnir boomed a laugh, thanked Jack for the assistance very formally, and asked him who he was.
“Nguyen Phuc Jack” he said, the way he told me his parents said it.
“Ah, one of the dragon lords. Thank you for the assistance, although I think I could have handled one lone Georgian. It’s when they come in numbers that they’re really dangerous.” Dragon lords? What the heck?

I was going to ask, but Fafnir groaned a bit as he shifted and I realized blood was still dripping down his arm from his folded wing. I went straight into EMT mode. "Let me see," I said with authority.

The gigantic dragon grinned slightly, and odd sight, unfurled his wing as ordered, and held it out to me. I knew exactly what to do from the time something similar happened to me as a kid. I held the leathery skin together with Jack's help, and bit carefully just below the joint between wrist and first wing bone. The venom had a far more immediate effect on Fafnir than on a human. The bleeding stopped and the flesh knitted together while Jack and I watched.

"You have my gratitude, Damson Dragon," Fafnir said when the wound was fully closed. It wasn't all the way healed, but it clearly would be in a few hours. "Healing is a rare gift. You must be a green."

"Purple, really, but my dad was green."

"Purple?" Fafnir seemed suprised. "I don't know as I have ever encountered a purple dragon."
Fafnir shifted then. He did the switch to fully human thing that my dad used to do. One minute, dragon the size of a Winnebago, the next, a man, although not much smaller, actually. He had to be nearly 7 feet tall, strawberry blonde, blue-eyed and built like Arnold Schwarzenegger before he went into politics. I really have to learn that trick.
Fafnir picked up the fallen sword and hefted it over the unconscious White Knight like he was going to chop his head off. I stopped him with a hand on his telephone pole of an arm. “You can’t just kill him.”

“What do you think he intended to do to me, fledgling?” Yeah, he called me fledgling, like a baby bird who can’t quite fly. I almost felt insulted, but I guess it sort of fits.
“I know.” I get it. White Knight's a Georgian, the guys who killed Dad, the ones I’ve hated and lived in constant fear of my whole life. But, it just didn’t seem right. I pulled the silver scale coif and half mask off and looked at the face of my enemy. The supple metallic scales in my hand felt all too familiar. Dragon skin. He was wearing the skin of a murdered dragon. But he was just a man, about 30 maybe, with a scar on his lip and another across his eyebrow. I’ve seen this guy pull kids out of a burning bus on the news. He just fought that fire-throwing bad guy a few days ago in front of me, the one who burned the cops and nearly got Jack. He’s one of the Protectors, a nationally recognized hero.

And in his spare time, he murdered dragons.
I’ve never felt so confused in all my life, but I spend my nights saving people. I couldn’t just stand by while someone stabbed this guy to death while he lay there unconscious and helpless. I told the big guy, Fafnir, that I wouldn’t let him kill the Knight.  Jack stepped up beside me, supporting me without words.
Fafnir looked as confused as I felt, but he let it go. He just shrugged and said he would no doubt have another opportunity to kill Georgians. Good thing, too, because if he'd insisted, there was really no way Jack and I could have stopped him.
I asked Fafnir how I could find him, or if there were any others of our kind in Texas. He was the first dragon I'd seen in fifty years, no way I was just going to let him leave.
He said he knew of one other dragon, another male named Vlad, who lived in Houston.  Fafnir gave me his own cell phone number, and the number of the guy in Houston, and I gave him mine. He said to be sure and destroy my cell if it looked like a Georgian was going to get me, so it couldn’t be used to track them down. Cheery thought.
I have other dragons I can talk to now!
Then, Fafnir shifted back to dragon form, leapt to the roof through the hole, flexed his wings a few times to test the injured part, and flew away.
Leaving me with Jack, and an unconscious Knight who was starting to groan and stir.
I grabbed Jack’s hand and we ran for the emergency exit before the White Knight woke up.
Jack drove me home. We didn’t say much on the way back. My mind was going a mile a minute with everything I’d learned about others of my own kind, and the White Knight being a Georgian.
When we got back to my apartment, Jack walked me up the stairs to my door, and stopped to say good night, and I remembered something else I learned. “What did he mean, dragon lord?”
Jack said it was what Nguyen Phuc meant, that he was one of the dragon lord clan who had been the last emperors of Vietnam before it became a republic.
He stood a little way from me while he talked, and carefully didn’t touch me, like he wasn’t sure if he could. I told him I was sorry about pushing him away earlier. I just didn’t want him to feel my scales and know I was a freak. Of course, now, with my dress ripped, my left arm, the one covered in a complete sheet of scales, was totally exposed.
Jack reached out kind of hesitantly to touch the scales, and I let him. No one else had ever touched them. He stroked down my left arm and it felt amazing. Fire doesn’t hurt me through those scales and I can stop a roof support beam with them without so much as a bruise, but I could still feel his light touch.
He said something in Vietnamese then, and I asked him what it meant.
“Sons of dragons, grandsons of gods. It’s what they say about my family line, that we were descended from a dragon.”
“So, you’re not freaked out?”
He gave me this exasperated look. Then he told me he’d worked with me for a year, seen me lift a gurney with a 300 pound patient on it with one hand, seen me jump over the gurney long ways just the other day, and he had known for months that if he left me alone for a few seconds with the most critically ill patients, they would recover completely, miraculously fast. We had a 70% higher survival rate than any other EMT team in town. That was the real reason why the boss hadn't fired me, no matter how often I was late.  And besides, Jack said he looked down my shirt a time or two and saw scales.
He’d known for months that I was different. He just wished that I would have trusted him sooner.
“You looked down my shirt?”
He shrugged and looked at his shoes. “I am a guy.”
And that’s when I kissed him. Or, he kissed me. Or both, maybe. But it was sweet, if a little clumsy. We kinda bumped teeth a little.
I just hope our second date isn’t quite this … exciting. Maybe we could stay in and rent a movie.

D Dragon

You Don't Know Jack

Jack didn’t say anything to me about what happened the other night, except to ask if I was okay. Then, he was really quiet for the rest of the shift, barely spoke to me. Jack and I have been working together for nearly a year under some pretty intense circumstances. He didn't give me shit about my weird "high protein" diet at lunch like he usually does, and he didn't tell me about the latest super-robot he'd beaten on that XBox game he's into, "Enslaved." So, I knew he was upset with me, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.
I finally gave in and asked Jack what was bugging him. He said that it didn’t matter, and generally kept his lips buttoned. I threatened to buy a badly written torrid romance novel and read the worst parts out loud until he gave in. Finally, he surrendered to my dire threats. I made him laugh a little anyway, so it was hard for him to keep being mad at me.
He said he was just disappointed that I didn’t trust him. I don’t really understand what he meant. We watch out for each other all the time. There was that time when we got called to a gang shooting in the worst part of east Austin, and I trusted him to watch for more shooters while I tended to the kid with the gut wound. I trusted him to cover for me with the boss for being chronically late whenever he could.
He wouldn’t give me any more information, no matter how much I cajoled or threatened, so I had to let it go. But it bothered me. The way he seemed kind of sad, and the distance he kept. Getting the cold shoulder from Jack was far worse torture than purple prose or fighting flame hurling robbers. I’d thought he was going to ask me out on a date, before the craziness with the Flame Guy. I bought a new outfit, even. A gorgeous outfit that I was dying for him to see me in.
It’s an asymmetrical dress with a full sleeve on the left side and off the shoulder on the right. Looks sexy, but covers all my scales, and it’s this deep vivid purple, just like a damson plum, exactly my color.  It brings out the highlights in my hair, which nowadays I can pass off as dye.  I went to 6 different shops looking for something that covered what I needed to cover but still looked good on me. I hit the jackpot with that dress. I got some cute little suede ankle boots to go with it. Can’t wear sandals, of course. I’ve got an extra toe on the inside of each heel, sort of like a thumb on a hand. It’s handy for picking up laundry and such from the floor when I’m barefoot at home, but looks way too freaky for sandals.  I tried on the whole outfit, along with the amethyst pendant that Ma gave me about 30 years ago for my birthday in front of the full length mirror, and I looked good. I looked downright hot if I do say so myself.
No way I was going to let that outfit go to waste. So, when our shift was over, I did it. I asked Jack out. I've never been so nervous in my life. I can’t believe I really did it, but I asked a guy out on a date. Not just any guy, of course. It’s Jack Nguyen, my partner, the closest thing I have to a real friend. As he pointed out, he’s the one guy I've ever trusted.
He looked pretty surprised when I asked him, then kind of suspicious. He actually asked me “Why?” Are guys supposed to ask you “why?” when you ask them out? I mean, I thought it was okay nowadays for a lady to ask out a man. Isn’t that part of what all that bra burning and free love nonsense was about back in the ‘60’s?
I didn’t know what to tell him. “Um, because I like you?” was the best I could come up with. I know, lame, but I didn’t know what else to say. I wonder if I blush purple because if I do, Jack probably got a really good look at it about then.
He got the cutest little half smile on his face, and he said, "That's a really good reason." He said that he was afraid I had asked him out just because I didn’t want to be alone on Valentine’s Day.
I’ve gotten so used to ignoring that stuff that I didn’t even notice that tomorrow was Valentine’s Day. I just knew it was our day off.  He’s going to think this means something way more than just that I wanted a chance to wear my nice outfit, and I didn’t want him mad at me anymore. He's going to think I want something serious. He might even expect sex, or at least some heavy petting. What the heck am I going to do?  What the heck was I thinking?
Maybe some supervillain will attack the city tomorrow causing mass devastation and I’ll have to cancel. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be that lucky.
D Dragon


I gave Ma a huge hug when I got home early, still wrapped in a blanket and smelling like smoke. I just held on tight for a while.
Ma patted my back and asked me what happened.
My partner, Jack, and I got called to a building fire, at least that was what the call said. They didn’t mention that a nutcase in flamey red spandex tossing fireballs caused the building fire. For once, I kinda wish we didn’t have the fastest response rate of any EMT team in town. We got there before any other ambulance team, and even beat the firemen for once.
The guy apparently robbed a jewelry store and when the cops showed up, he started flinging fire at them. There were two cops down with bad burns when we got there, and the fire guy had set the apartment complex across the street ablaze.  Fire trucks arrived while we ran to help the cops. They fought the building fire while cops and a couple of superheroes tried to subdue the robber.  His body was sealed in a kind of layer of intense shimmering heat that vaporized bullets before they could do anything to him.
TakeDown tried to fight Flame Guy. TakeDown is a local guy who Jack and I had seen before a time or two. He’s good people. He does a lot of the educational outreach stuff with kids, Stranger Danger, that kind of thing. It was pretty obvious that he could hold his own in a fight, but he's not fireproof, so he couldn't get near the robber without getting burned. All he could do was dodge fireballs, and draw fire away from the civilians. The other hero was actually one of the Protectors, a nationally famous hero that I’d only seen on TV, getting a medal for saving a bunch of kids in a wrecked bus. White Knight. 
That guy makes my jaws tighten . He dresses like a refugee from a Renaissance faire and has a sword and shield and silver scale armor, but what pisses me off is the image painted on his shield: a guy with one foot on the chest of a dying dragon, holding a spear through it.  Asshole. But that shield seemed to be a good defense against fire and heat. He would just duck behind it any time Flame Guy threw a fireball at him.

Jack and I helped the cops who were down while the heroes did their best to keep Flame Guy from hurting anyone else. One cop just had burns over his forearm. We cut away his uniform, laid some burn sheets over the worst of it, and sent him to sit in the passenger seat while we took care of his partner. The other cop was burnt bad over nearly 50% of his body, screaming in agony. The smell of it choked me, and made my stomach turn. Jack called it in, and got permission from the doc on duty to shoot him up with morphene. The cop went out like Jack had flipped a switch. The cop was in for a horrific few months in the hospital, and had a high probability of not making it. And even if he did, he’d be badly scarred and probably disabled for life.
I sent Jack back to the unit for more burn sheets, cleared my mind till all I felt was empathy for the cop’s pain, checked to make sure no one was looking our way amid the chaos, and bit him on his uninjured arm. I made sure the fang pierced the median vein, and gave him a full dose of venom.  My venom doesn’t heal instantly or anything, but it vastly accelerates and augments healing, even to the point of helping him regenerate burnt skin. The cop was going to make a miraculous recovery, and probably would be back on the streets in a week or two. In six months, he wouldn’t even have scars.
Jack and I got a drip going into him, got him on a gurney, and headed toward the unit. We were paying so much attention to the injured cop, we didn’t notice that the fight had come our way. In like a second, a bunch of stuff happened. The White Knight shouted a warning. Flame Guy was headed straight for Jack, and his body had flames licking all over it, and that wicked heat shimmer that made him look blurry. If he touched Jack, my partner would be in as bad a shape as the cop or worse. Instead of getting out of the way, Jack fumbled at his belt, trying to grab the tazer he always kept with him for emergencies. 

I jumped over the gurney longways from a standstill and landed in front of Flame Guy who ran into me instead of Jack. I stumbled backward into Jack. My uniform shirt caught fire instantly, and I shoved the burning man hard away from me with my scale-protected left arm. Right into the shield of the White Knight.  The force of my shove knocked the Knight down, and dazed the bad guy.
The flames flickered out for a second and Takedown put both gloved palms on the villain’s back. I heard electricity crackle even as smoke came up from TakeDown's gloves. The fire slinger, spasmed, jerked, then went limp. The White Knight yelped at the same time, and I have to admit, I chuckled. TakeDown’s tazer gloves took out the bad guy, but apparently the knight’s shield and scale armor conducted the electricity a little too well. Take that, big bad knight.
I wasn’t laughing long as I realized my uniform shirt was burning away, and the scales on my left arm and shoulder were showing. Yikes! I hunched over the arm, trying to cover it before anyone saw, jumped into the back of the unit, grabbed a blanket and threw it over myself. Jack was right behind me.
He kept asking how bad I was hurt and trying to pry away the blanket. We had what I can only describe as our first fight. I had to practically throw him off me to keep him from looking under the blanket. He kept saying things like, “This is no time for modesty,” and “It’s okay. It’s just me.” like I was being overly shy.  I told him I was fine, but he didn’t buy it. He wouldn’t leave it be until I reminded him we had two patients to get to the hospital. He wasn’t happy about it, but he drove.
I bailed on the rest of the shift, went home sick officially. Jack gave me a look as I was leaving, not like I expected. He didn’t look pissed. He just looked kind of disappointed, I guess. 
Ma worried a bit that someone might have seen my scales during the second or two that they were visible. Even with that, she said she was proud of me for saving Jack and the cop.
But I can’t shake this feeling, like I did something really wrong. I just can’t figure out what it is.
D Dragon

40 years of puberty

I think my partner, Jack, likes me.  I mean, not just likes me as in we enjoy working together, which I know he does, but really likes me, likes me. He almost asked me out when our shift was ending. I managed to escape out the door before he could, but I still have to face him tomorrow, and the next night, and the next. What the heck am I going to do?

Don't get me wrong. Jack's a nice guy, even really cute. When I told Ma about it, she smiled and said she approved, that he was “a very nice young man,” and it was about time.

She doesn’t get why I’m having conniptions. Jack’s not the problem. It's me. I am a walking disaster when it comes to men. The world's oldest virgin. I'm damn near old enough to qualify for social security and there are 25 year old nuns who have gotten more action than I have. I’ve never even been on a real date. Who is a girl who is 60 and looks 20 supposed to date? I’ve always moved away whenever a guy got too close, but Ma’s getting too old to start over again with new identities. I’m here in Austin to stay, for a decade or two anyway. Jack’s like 27. What do people that age talk about on dates?

People who think living for centuries would be great never seem to think about some of the fun realities of having this long a lifespan. Like 40 years of puberty. So far. Humans get a few years of living hell in high school while their voices break and hair grows in weird places and they get their periods and the boob fairy visits, and bam, they’re all grown up. There are times when I’d kill to be human.

Everyone else learned about dating in high school. I couldn’t even go to high school. I looked like I was 12 until I was past 20. Managed to get through college by stuffing a bra with socks and using a lot of makeup. It took twenty years for me to fill out a bra enough that I could stop using the socks, and that was when I started getting scales. We’re not just talking slightly hard spots on my skin, I mean shiny, metallic, bright purple scales the size of nickels only more oval. And eventually a few brilliant green ones, too, and bigger silver ones about quarter size on my spine and one shoulder and breast.

On the one hand, I keep thinking, when these cover my whole body, I’ll almost look like my dad, only mostly purple. I’ll have deep purple as my main color and emerald green tiger stripes. That would be so cool.

On the other hand, I’ve got freaking scales on my body! And let’s not talk about my feet or the underside of my arms and my sides where my wings fold up. I don’t know how Dad did the, I’m perfectly human, thing.  I can’t even let a date get to second base. If he so much as cops a feel, he’s going to know I’m a freak. And what would I wear? I can’t wear anything form-fitting or low cut. All of my clothes look frumpy. I don’t have anything date worthy in my closet at all.

I’d better go shopping. If I'm going to go out with Jack, I’ve got to find something to wear.

D Dragon

Got hit by a damn car

Some nights, it doesn't pay for a dragon to get out of bed.

Got up, and couldn't find my keys, anywhere. I always put them in the same place, on the hook by my light switch, but they weren't there. Ma was asleep, so I couldn't ask her. I turned the apartment upside down. They were nowhere, just vanished.

I was going to be late, again. One more ding on my record and I'd be looking for another job. Not good. I like this job. I know it's weird, but I do. At least I can help a few people, sometimes.

I was running out of time. With 20 minutes left, I realized I'd never make it on time even if I found my keys. So, I gave up, and slipped out my window to the fire escape. I live in the tallest apartment building in downtown. Went straight up to the roof, doing my best to avoid the railing section that screeches when you lean on it, right next to Mrs. Del Conte's window. She's my landlady, and she's got the loudest, yappiest Pekingese in Austin. I'd hate that dog if it wasn't so darn cute.

As soon as I hit the roof, I unbottoned my uniform shirt, and took it off so I could get my wings unfolded without tearing it. Tucked my shirt into the back of my pants so I wouldn't lose it. It was well after 11 at night. The street lights keep everyone blind to the sky in the city, so not much danger that anyone would see me.

I'm not my dad. I can't do the full dragon thing, or I don't know, maybe I just can't do it yet. I'm still pretty young the way dragons count things. I can't quite fly. Can't just, you know, jump up and flap and lift off from the ground, although I can jump a couple stories with wing assist. I can also glide better than any hang glider ever dreamed, even gain some altitude if I catch the thermals right.

It felt so good to stretch my wings and catch the air, cold as a well-digger's ass this time of year, but the cold's never really bothered me much. It's just a different kind of swooshy feeling as it flows under my wing membranes. It's beautiful up there in the sky, and so perfectly peaceful. Everything pauses and the world takes a deep breath. I wonder sometimes why dad ever came down.

There's a little park right across from the hospital. Should have been empty that time of night. I tilted my right wing and circled to shed air speed, then flapped backward hard just before my feet touched grass. Light as a feather. Dad would have been proud. I was grinning, all pleased with myself for the perfect landing, and looked up ... right into the eyes of a homeless guy, sitting leaned up against a tree. He was huddled under every piece of clothing he probably owned until he looked like part of the landscaping. He had on a goofy red knit hat with strings dangling on either side of his face tipped with little pom poms.

"Uh, Hi." I snapped my wings closed and waved at him.

He looked dazed, but he waved back.

Hopefully, he'll assume the half naked, partially scaly winged girl he saw was a result of whatever he had to drink before camping here.

I had bigger problems. The cell phone in my pocket read 11:57. I had three minutes to show up to work on time. Threw my shirt over my shoulders and ran, buttoning as I went.

I realized half way across the road that I got the buttons done wrong, stopped for a second to undo them. Dumb, really dumb to stand in the middle of the road, looking down at my buttons. Don't know what in the world I was thinking.

Some guy in an F150 pickup going way faster than he should have been going right in front of a hospital clipped me hard with his right front bumper. Threw me about 15 feet, clear over the sidewalk and into the wall. That really hurt. I was bruised for hours. And my uniform pants got ripped. Who goes that fast in a hospital zone anyway? I mean, besides us. But we have flashy lights and sirens, and a good excuse.

The guy slammed the brakes and jumped out to come check on me, but I ran for it before he got a good look at me. Made it into the building, but the boss still yelled at me for being late. And, for showing up looking like I slept in my uniform, and rolled in the dirt.

Some days, it just doesn't pay. Boss said they're too short-handed to fire me. Got that going for me, I guess.

Here's the kicker. After my shift, when I got home, I went to grab a couple slices of leftover ham out of the fridge, and found my keys next to the milk.

D Dragon

Damson Dragon

I watched a man die today, when I could have saved him.

When I got home at the end of my shift at 8:30 AM, Ma was up, making breakfast, scrambled eggs with bacon bits and cheese mixed in. She made toast for herself, and sliced tomatoes from her balcony garden, but I can't eat bread, or vegetables. Dragons are pure carnivores, and I inherited that trait, along with pretty much every other dragon trait, despite my mother being human. Apparently dragon genes are pretty potent.

I told Ma about the man who died over breakfast. I've already forgotten his name, which bugs me. Some middle-aged, overweight middle manager who clearly spent too much of his life working hard to make his company wealthy. Somebody should remember his name.

He had a heart attack. Our response times are the best in town, I'm proud to say, so we got to him fast. Some secretary had done CPR on him till we arrived. My partner, Jack, paddled him, and he had a rhythm. He was breathing. If I'd bit him then, he'd have made a full recovery. My venom has some pretty remarkable healing properties when I'm in the right mental space. But I couldn't very well pop out fangs and bite the guy in front of his secretary and half his office. They were all hovering around, no matter how much I tried to get them to go back to their computers and status meetings.

The rhythm faltered, and he gasped right there while all his co-workers gawked. A second attack. It happens sometimes, like aftershocks after an earthquake. We couldn't get him jump-started again. He just ... stopped. And I watched it and did nothing. Well, not nothing. I did everything a human could have done to try to save him. But it wasn't enough.

I could have saved him. Right then, I was the only one who could. But I didn't.

Ma made comforting noises at me. "You have to keep your head down, Damson. I know how hard hiding is on you."

She doesn't though. She has no idea. What's the point of being so different when I can't make a difference? I've got all these abilities, but all I do is hide them. I should be using them to help out, to make the world a better place, like Dad did. That's what he taught me, pretty much from birth.  Ma doesn't see what I see, night after night.

That guy, he was about my age, early sixties, time when humans start to die pretty regularly. I still get carded in bars, or I would if I drank alcohol, but still, he and I were the same age. If I were human, that could have been me, working myself into an early grave. If he survived, he might have taken some time off, gone to Hawaii, written his memoirs, played guitar in a band. He might have done something different with his life, given the chance.

Ma and I ran through the same old argument a little. I pointed out that lots of folks who were different were running around in costumes saving people nowadays. They were on the news and commercials. They got endorsement deals from Nike, got medals from the president. Superheroes like the Protectors were symbols of hope, justice and order. The All American Alliance were showboats, but even they saved lives and protected the innocent. They didn't have to keep their heads down and blend in, even when it cost a man's life.

Ma got all teary-eyed, and scared looking, and made me promise I wouldn't do anything crazy. It was that kind of thinking that cost my dad his life. Georgians got him before I hit puberty, and if they'd have known about me, they'd have taken my head, too. Might have killed Ma, too, just for consorting with dragons. I know that. I know that if I do anything to draw attention to myself, it's not just my life I'm risking, it's Ma's.

Ma's the only family I've had since I was fourteen. It's been just the two of us, moving from place to place whenever folks started to notice that I didn't seem to be getting any older, or if they got a glimpse of my scales or wings. She's spent her whole life looking out for me, sacrificing jobs and friends and anything else in her life that might have mattered to keep me safe. I promised her I wouldn't do anything that would bring the Georgians' attention.

Not Georgians like people from Georgia. Knights in the order of St. George. Dragon slayers. It's a secret society that's existed since just before the dark ages. But they're not ancient history, they're still around. Or at least, they were about 50 years ago, when they chopped my dad's head off, and left his skinned, headless body in the field at our farm for my mother and me to find when we got back from town. That image is burned into my brain forever. The Georgians found dad, even on a little farm outside the tiny town of Hamilton, Texas. He'd been using his gifts to help his neighbors and friends, and word had gotten out.

Yeah, I'll keep my head down, and keep it on my shoulders. For Ma's sake. For now.

I guess if I'm going to write down my thoughts in a diary to keep from going nuts, I should probably sign them, but I'm not sure how. My full name is Damson Diane Drake. Ma named me Damson after the plums. My hair was brilliant purple when I was born. It's black now in most lights, although you can see shimmers of eggplant in bright sunshine. I try to avoid sunshine.

I mostly just go by Dee, because the name on the fake birth certificate I use changes every few years. Currently, it says Diane Emerson, my mother's middle name.

Drake just means male dragon in old English. It was the only last name my dad ever gave. Sir Robert Drake. He was the real deal. He could look as human as anyone one minute, and fly over the house in full scales the next, expand in size till he was twice the size of a plow horse. He was beautiful, too. Scales the color of emeralds, with heavier silver scales on his spine and chest. He used to take me flying over our farm and the woods behind it.

Now, I'm getting all teary-eyed. It's been a really long night. I'm just tired.

Ma's settled in her rocker with her knitting and her cane close by, and her soaps on the TV. She can wake me if she needs anything. That's enough for a first shot at this diary thing.

D Dragon