Sunlight splashed on the ground outside. The grass was a vibrant green. The little purple flowers were halfway open. On the other side of the glass stood Beryl. She stopped slicing her block of cheese for a second to pout at the scene outside.
“Such a pretty spring and I still have to go to school. I want to sit in the backyard and watch the bees.”
Mrs Wang chuckled from her spot by the whirring microwave. “Lazypants.”
Beryl pulled a face. “School’s so boring. Sometimes really stressful too.”
The microwave beeped. Mrs Wang reached in and took out the little bowl of milk that was for Beryl’s little sister, Emilee. Emilee sat at the kitchen table. “Milk, milk,” she giggled cheerily. Mrs Wang grabbed a spoon. “You call your school stressful? Back in my day, there was a load of homework for every single night and a massive load for the holidays. You don’t even get homework on the holidays.”
Beryl tossed the sliced cheese onto her piece of bread. “It’s just so mundane and ordinary.” She picked up a ball of lettuce and began peeling off leaves. “I wish it could be more interesting. Like…” Her hands stopped their work as a dreamy look wafted over her face. “Like the adventures I read about in books. They’re always so exciting. I want to be in one.”
“Oh no you don’t." Mrs Wang stopped spooning cereal and milk into Emilee’s mouth to shoot Beryl a disdainful look. “Those adventures may seem exhilarating and glorious when you read about them from the outside, but when you’re actually in one yourself, it’s scary. And the danger is much more real and immediate. Trust me, you don’t want to be in one. Be grateful for your peaceful, ordinary, mundane life.”
“I didn’t ask for a lecture, Mum.” Beryl dumped the lettuce on top of the cheese and finished making the sandwich with another piece of bread on top. “Whatever you say, adventures are always going to be fun. And school is always going to be boring.”
Mrs Wang's mouth twitched into a naughty smile. “But you’re not going to be completely bored at school, are you? What about that boy of yours? Ash? Don’t you get to see him at school?”
Beryl’s face turned red. “He is not my boyfriend!” she exclaimed indignantly.
Mrs Wang chuckled. “I didn’t say that. But you get to be with him when you're at school, right?”
“I can see him whenever I want, Mum.” Beryl stuffed the sandwich aggressively into its container. “He only lives two blocks away.”
“Hehe. I can tell you like him.” Mrs Wang giggled mischievously. “The way you talk to him. The way you look at him.”
“Shut up! You’re so embarrassing!” Beryl dumped the sandwich container into her bag and swung it onto her shoulder. The books inside cluttered around. She did like Ash a lot. They’d only met since the start of high school eight months ago, but she already couldn’t imagine her life without him. He was kind, caring, great to be with, fond of her as well. And handsome too. She blushed. But that didn’t mean Mrs Wang could tease her about it. She flicked her hair back and stormed out the front door. “Bye, Mum!”
“Have fun at school, darling.”
Her bad mood dissipated in the instant she stepped outside. Sunshine splashed the grass and the driveway. The skeleton tree in the yard, which she'd thought was dead, had sprouted many tender green leaves. Finally, spring was here.
Suddenly, something blotted out the sun. A gust of cold wind raised goosebumps on her arms. Beryl looked up in astonishment. Great dark shapes wheeled in circles in the sky, getting bigger and bigger as they descended towards the ground. More black specks followed after them. The wind grew until the trees were bent over. Dirt and tiny stones pelted her face. A howl assaulted her ears. Behind her, Mrs Wang opened the door with an effort.
“Come back inside! Quickly!”
Beryl leapt back inside and Mrs Wang slammed the door. They huddled together in front of the kitchen table, Emilee’s breakfast forgotten, and watched the scene outside through the window beside the front door.
The black shapes loomed dark and menacing, wheeling in the sky like great eagles of prey. Beryl squinted. They looked like some form of huge insect. Wide wings, long spiked tails, lengthy necks. One spouted a tongue of flame. Beryl blinked in amazement. She realised what they were. Dragons. She craned her neck, looking outside eagerly. Finally, something of excitement was happening.
The first wave of dragons landed on the road in front of the house. The road was a main road, a total of six lanes wide, so it could easily fit many dragons. They loomed higher than the houses. The cars on the road swerved in panic and many crashed. A chill of fear shivered up Beryl’s spine. She began to feel frightened.
The dragons stomped around for a while. Cars were crushed, traffic lights and lamp posts bent, trees torn down. Then a dragon approached a house on the other side of the road. Beryl and Mrs Wang watched it anxiously. It demolished the entire front half into rubble with a single swipe of its foreleg. They couldn’t see what it was doing to the people inside because its back was to them. Up and down the road, other dragons started to destroy houses as well.
Mrs Wang snapped out of her horrified reverie and dragged Beryl towards the back of the house, clutching Emilee in her arms. “Quick. To the basement. We’ll hide there.”
The entrance to the basement was at the very back of the laundry room. Mrs Wang heaved open the panel covering the entrance and the three of them hurried inside.
It was a large space, going under the entire back half of the house and part of the backyard, but the roof was very low. Beryl and Mrs Wang had to stoop over halfway to be able to walk. They stumbled across the uneven dirt and stones towards the other side of the basement where it was under the backyard, cobwebs brushing their hair. There was another entrance/exit there. They collapsed onto the ground under it and huddled together.
“So this is what you like?” Mrs Wang hissed. “Dragons and danger?”
They heard the loud stomping of a dragon. It stopped in front of their house and tore it open. Bricks and wood crashed to the ground. It sniffed around. Beryl heard things being crushed, broken, lifted up and thrown back down. Fires broke out here and there as the dragon snorted, crackling loudly. Beryl and Mrs Wang cowered together silently, stricken with fear, Emilee crushed between them. Beryl felt very scared now. She felt like she was in a dream. Surely this couldn’t really be happening? Everything seemed surreal, unbelievable, fake. She regretted saying she liked excitement and danger. This had to be karma. Mrs Wang had been right; it was scary and all too real when you were in it yourself. She prayed frantically. Please don’t find us. Please don’t find us.
And it didn’t. After a while, the dragon stomped away. The sounds of death and destruction became a little more distant.
They huddled together for a while more, shocked and frozen. Then Beryl jumped up suddenly. Her head banged the roof painfully, but she barely noticed. Fear and panic coursed through her.
“What are you doing?” Mrs Wang hissed, trying to pull her back down.
“Ash’s house doesn’t have a basement!” Not heeding her mother, Beryl pushed open the exit they were sitting under and scrambled out into the backyard. She had no time to lose. “He and his family are in extreme danger! They’re dead for sure if a dragon wrecks their house! I have to help them get over here to our basement!”
She picked up a half-broken chair and used it as a leg-up to get over the fence. Ash’s house was also on the main road, two blocks down from hers, but she would go by the side streets. The main road would be too dangerous, with that many dragons roaming about, but she guessed there would be less on the side streets because they were too small to fit many dragons.
She dropped down on the other side of the fence with a painful jerk to the ankles. She dashed across the neighbour’s backyard and swung herself over the low gate at the side of the house. Accurate to her predictions, there were less dragons on the side streets. There were only three dragons as far as she could see. Only two houses were damaged and no cars had crashed. Beryl darted behind a bush as a dragon approached and watched to see what it would do.
It stopped two houses down from where she was and contemplated the house for a few moments. Then it brought its foreleg up and reduced the entire front half to rubble with a single slash. The people inside, a middle-aged couple, screeched loudly and rushed towards the back of the house. But they were too late. The dragon’s tongue lashed out, a bright, venomous green, and the spike at the tip buried itself into the man’s back. The green flowed into the man’s body from the spike. When the tongue had become a translucent flesh colour like a giant see-through slug and there was no venom left, the spike whipped back out. The man fell to the ground, blood spurting from the wound, violently convulsing. The woman continued to run, but the dragon paid it no heed. It turned around and proceeded to tear down another house. Beryl guessed that it had to wait for its venom to replenish itself before it could stab another person.
Beryl watched the man, wide-eyed. He seemed to be changing shape. Something, like grey grass, was sprouting all along his back and shoulders. She blinked and realised they were feathers. His neck elongated. His nose lengthened to become a dragon’s snout. His back lengthened to become a dragon’s tail. He grew in size until he was as big as the dragons that had descended from the sky. Then he flapped his wings and flew up. Beryl raised her eyes and saw there were many dragons flying up into the sky. They were all heading in the same direction. Were they all humans who’d been stabbed?
She dashed down the road. One block… two blocks… She turned down the side street that would lead her back to the main road. Her heart pounded. Would she arrive in time? What if Ash’s house had been torn down already? Her breath seared in her throat. She reached the end of the street. She halted and peered around the bend.
There were many dragons stomping around. Many people lay in front of houses and along the road, slowly turning into dragons. Many of the houses had been reduced to rubble. Many cars lay on the road, nothing but piles of junk. Smoke wafted around in the air and stung Beryl’s eyes. Fires smouldered here and there.
Ash’s house, two houses down from where she was standing, was half torn open. A dragon stood in front of it. Ash’s mother was ushering his three siblings into the backyard while he stood in front of them, facing the dragon, armed with nothing but a kitchen knife. He looked around, as if by some inner instinct, and saw Beryl. A helpless, fearful look was in his eyes. Beryl knew his state of mind; he was divided between shouting at her to get away, and screaming for help. Beryl’s heart pounded and her resolve wavered. They seemed beyond help… the only way for them to get to a side street would be to go over fences, but Ash’s three young siblings couldn’t do that nearly as quick as was necessary. And Ash facing a dragon like that… he was bound to be stabbed as soon as he turned around. What could she possibly do to help them? Then disgust and shame rolled over her. Of course she had to help her friend no matter what. And I love him, flashed across her heart, but she pushed the thought away and blushed. Blush? How could she blush at a time like this?
She steeled her resolve and ran towards Ash. What did she intend to do? What could she do? How could she help him fend off a dragon? She had no idea. But she kept running anyway. “I’m coming, Ash!”
But she was too late. The dragon’s tongue lashed out towards him. She leapt up and tried to knock Ash out of the way, but she was too far away. She thumped onto the ground painfully and the dragon’s spiked tongue sunk into his chest. Time and space seemed to freeze. This can’t be happening, Beryl thought numbly. Then the spike whipped out and Ash collapsed onto the ground. Blood gushed out of the wound and pooled around him. Black light flashed across Beryl’s eyes and she was afraid she would faint. This can’t be happening.
She threw herself down beside him and picked him up. She put his head in her lap and smoothed his hair from his forehead. His eyes were closed, blood trickling from his mouth. She knew what was going to happen, but she didn’t want to admit it to herself. “You can’t turn into a dragon, Ash!” she screamed shrilly. “You’ve got to fight it!”
His eyes opened a tiny bit. “Beryl,” he gasped weakly, hands groping for hers. She sobbed uncontrollably. “I’m here! You’ve got to stay too!” His eyes shut again in pain as his body convulsed violently. A row of feathers sprouted along his shoulders. Crying out in horror and panic, Beryl swiped at them with her hands. They fell off but more grew in their place. She brushed them off frantically, crying hysterically. “This is a dream!” she screamed over and over, as if she could will this horrible reality into a dream. “This is a dream! This is a dream!” The feathers became bigger and more firmly rooted; they didn’t fall off anymore when she swiped at them. She tightened her grip on one and tried to pull it out. It didn’t budge. Ash turned his face to her. It was all twisted and contorted with pain. Beryl abandoned the feathers and took his face in her hands. "Please, you've got to fight it." But he hit her with such force that she was knocked onto the ground a little distance away. A growl issued from his throat.
“Stay back. I’m dangerous.”
His back elongated to form a tail. The spine pushed up out of the skin to form spikes. His legs and arms thickened. Wings sprouted from his sides. His neck lengthened. His face lengthened to become a dragon’s snout. His skin, in the places where there weren't any feathers, became dark and scaly. All the while he grew bigger and bigger. Beryl watched from the side, horrorstruck and frozen in place. He stood up, towering above her. He flapped his mighty wings and rose into the air.
Beryl was jerked back to her senses. She scrambled up and ran after the flying dragon. She was on the main road, right out in the open, but she didn’t care. I love him! The thought came again, clearer than before. Then fear and an unsettling feeling crept into her heart. I’m in love with a dragon? But the other side of her spoke again. No, it’s not a dragon. It’s Ash. He's still in there, he has to be. And I have to get him back. I love him.
But chasing him like this was hopeless. He was flying much, much faster than her and constantly gaining height. She would lose sight of him soon. She would never catch up. She looked around frantically. What to do?
Then a crazy idea entered her head. She hesitated for a moment, mindlessly continuing her wild dash down the road. What if there really was no hope of rescue after you morphed? What if all trace of you disappeared? Then she’d be gone, too. And the chase would also be for nothing. Then she pushed the selfish thoughts away. An iron determination filled her heart. I love you, Ash. And I’ll follow you no matter what. I’ll follow you up into the sky. She leapt into the middle of the road, a tiny ant against great monsters, and flung her arms wide.