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Archive for October, 2016

Part 2 of The Dragon’s Ghost, by Lucy D. Ford
___

It was if Alysona walked in a dream. The moor was quiet, without an insect’s buzz or the stealthy rustle of hares in the brush. The sky, too, was empty of birds. Only her footfalls and an occasional mew broke the silence.

It was hard going for Alysona’s stumpy legs. There was no path, but she knew the way. She came here several times during the year, to gather horehound for cough syrup and madder roots for dye. Perhaps that was how she had come under the Palloes’s eye.

She shook her head. “Too late to worry over that.”

A wart grew on the horizon, green with grass but capped by a dark sheen of stone. Venge Hill. She headed toward it, defying gusts of wind that whistled in the gorse bushings. Perhaps an hour passed before she put the hamper down and sat on it. Her rest was fraught with worry and dark questions.

Were her visitors truly the notorious Palloes, tyrants from local legend, or were they ghosts of some sort? No one had seen the Palloes in ages. And what did they want with a dragon’s bone? Nothing good, Alysona was sure. Only, perhaps, if the dragon’s power kept them in check, they hoped his bone would set them free. She picked up the hamper and struggled on.

Details of the tumbledown keep were clearer. There was the high watch tower, and a great black maw where Cazarluun had torn through into the ancient mine. Despite the hard walk and her warm shawl, Alysona shivered. She had never liked been this close to Venge Hill.

White stones ringed the broken mount, like stitches at the edge of a rough green quilt. Low blocks were spaced between slim and straight ones, a double row weaving like the coils of a monstrous serpent. Soon she was close enough to spot heaps of other stones, slouched like shoulders or hips. The largest of these had great gaping windows.

Eye sockets of the dragon’s skull, if the legends were true. Alysona had always taken them for simple stones, their purpose lost to memory. Now that she was nearer, she could see the curves and planes. They were, in truth, a dragon’s bones.

Despair washed over her. “How can a teeny woman such as myself carry those great things?” Daisy huddled under a gorse nearby. Alysona answered for herself. “I’ll have to find a smaller bit.”

Ribs and vertebrae passed in a slow march. Surely there were little bones in the tail, or perhaps a toe. She did find a foot, skinny and clawed like a cock’s, but even the least back talon was as long as her arm.

Alysona leaned against a gigantic shoulder blade and gazed down the endless row of ribs. If only she could go home, forget all this! But Euryx had planned too well. She could never live with herself if she didn’t save Brynn. Daisy came to rub her ankles, encouraging her.

“I can’t believe you came this far,” Alysona said. The cat cast an anxious eye up at her. “If you can do it, so can I.”

Eventually she came to a bundle of long, skinny bones, some of them well sunk into the earth.

“The dragon’s wing,” Alysona guessed.

Following one of the stretchers out, she spied a smaller spur at the end of it. A wingtip claw. It was only the length of her hand, quite a tiny bone relative to the rest of the skeleton.

The claw was cool and smooth, not spongy like other bones. It seemed untouched by the decades since the dragon entered its final rest. She pulled, but the wingtip clung stubbornly to the bone.

“Forgive me, Cazarluun,” Alyzona murmured. “This is what I have to do.”

She set both hands, twisted and tugged, and finally wrestled the claw free. It was heavier than it seemed. She bundled it into the hamper, adjusted her shawl, and set off back the way she had come. Daisy trotted ahead, ears working nervously.

A chill breeze stirred the brush. It sounded like a harsh whisper all around her.

“Give me my bone.”

No one was there. Alysona would have seen them. Still, she hunched her shoulders up to her ears and walked faster.

Movement caught in the corner of her eye. White mist or steam wafted from the rib bones as she passed. Daisy was growling again. Something brushed Alysona’s face, like cobwebs in the dark, and there was a faint odor of char.

She swallowed a a sour taste in her mouth and hurried straight up the hill. Her stunted legs made it a tough climb, while her shoulders burned with the hamper’s weight. More stones were scattered all the way up slope. These were not white but dark, blackened by ancient fire.

Wind pushed from behind, a louder hiss in her ears. “Give me my bone.”

It was definitely a voice, low and dangerous. Alysona risked a look over her shoulder. White vapors clotted together at the base of the slope. The ghostly shape had a long neck edged with saw-toothed spikes, mighty wings, deadly talons. The great head had horrid, hollow eyes.

A ghost — the ghost of Dragon Cazarluun!

She charged up the steep hill, though her short legs were stiff as wood and her heart pounded in her throat. Slabs of masonry blocked her way. She scrambled around them, stumbled, kept on.

“Give me my bone!”

“I can’t,” Alysona panted. The hamper dragged, its weight slowing her.

Other voices echoed soft and sinister from up ahead. “Well done, Alysona.”

“Hurry now.”

“Your dear Brynn is waiting.”

The Palloes — this was all their fault! She struggled on, gulping breath, as anger renewed her strength. How could she get rid of them? For she knew, if they got what they wanted, they would keep coming back to her. Brynn would never be safe.

Daisy bounded past, orange fur bristled to twice her usual size. The slope trembled as something awful rushed up behind them.

“Run, Daisy!” Alysona yelled.

“Give me my bone!” roared the dragon’s ghost.

Keeping ahead of the enormous wraith, she dashed through empty archways. Shattered towers were bare to the sky; halves of rooms held weathered furnishings. Then a courtyard where the ground suddenly dropped away. She skidded, fighting for balance.

A crumbling stairway led down into the gloomy pit. Howling wind pulled on her skirt and shawl, trying to drag her in. Three tiny, bald heads looked up from far below. She could hear them perfectly despite the distance.

“Come, join us,” coaxed Firiss Palloe. “We’re all waiting.”

Alysona trembled, uncertain. If she stayed, who knew what the dragon would do? But if she went in there, she wouldn’t come out — at least, not as the person she wanted to be.

“Why are you stopping?” Gevant Palloe demanded. “Give it to us!”

Daisy wailed and darted off, but Alysona’s head snapped up. Only one thing had ever defeated the Dwarven sorcerers — the wraith that was almost upon her. She dug frantically in her hamper.

Far below, Euryx Palloe raged, “No time for your sniveling — throw the bone now!”

The dragon’s ghost lunged, tail whipping and talons outstretched. “GIVE ME MY BONE!”

The little woman raised the wingtip that seemed to weigh as much as all the world. She screamed, “THEN TAKE IT!”

She hurled the claw into the pit. Seconds later, a blast of white and icy air roared past. It dove after that bit of bone. Alysona dropped to her knees, watching the dragon’s ghost plunge down and down. Three eager faces, alight with malice, looked up for their prize.

Then a mighty roar. The earth bucked and stones toppled into the pit, while indescribable howls and flashes echoed up from below. In the depths, three shrieks suddenly cut off.

Moments later, a pure white flare headed back up. Alysona scrambled backward, frantic to get away from the edge. Light rose, dazzling her. She cowered, covering her face, while her eyelids pulsed red with the glare.

Terrified, Alysona dared to peek between her fingers. The dragon’s ghost hovered, glaring at her. Spectral scales glinted, claws flexed, and vast wings beat with all the claw tips in place.

“I’m sorry,” she whimpered. “They made me —”

The dragon’s ghost snorted. “Go home, mortal.” It soared upward, spiraled wide, then curved back to settle around the base of Venge Hill.

Was it really over? Had she survived this nightmare of a day? Alysona didn’t believe it until she felt a furry ball shivering against her hip. She stroked Daisy’s head, sharing comfort, and tried to organize her thoughts.

Even with the dragon’s permission, she couldn’t go home. Her husband was still down there — or she desperately hoped so. Blinking against the after-image of the ghostly glow, she crawled to the edge.

“Brynn?” she called, desolate. “Brynn!”

Ragged shuffling came in answer. Could it be human footsteps? She peered down, hardly daring to hope. Far below, a figure in a night shirt ran up the stairs.

“Alysona,” he croaked. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, Brynn!” Alysona ran down the steps. They met on the nearest landing. Her husband swept her up like a little girl, while she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I thought they would kill you.”

“Who? Oh.” Brynn set her down, paling as he realized where they were. “What happened?”

Alysona took his hand and pulled him up the stairs. “They stole you. Those awful Dwarves!”

“I don’t remember,” he murmured, stunned.

“They wanted me to bring them a bone from the dragon’s skeleton,” Alysona explained bitterly.

“I thought I saw a dragon. It was fighting the Dwarves.”

“I gave them a bone, all right. Only I tricked them.” She smiled with fierce joy. “Cazarluun wanted his bone back, you see.”

“Is that what all the racket was about?” Brynn chuckled. “At least I have a good reason for walking about in my night shirt.”

Alysona smiled, relieved to hear his calm good sense. “Don’t worry, I brought your things.”

Once they reached the top, she passed him clothes from the hamper. Daisy pranced around, rubbing any knee or ankle she could reach.

“She came, too?” Brynn asked, surprised. Daisy trilled up at him.

“Every step,” Alysona said, “but it was the dragon’s ghost that saved you.”

Brynn gazed down with pride as he buttoned his shirt. “No, it did not. You did it, love. You saved me.”

She blushed. Brynn had always been the strong one who protected her from superstitious villagers. Now she had protected him. It felt strange, but good.

“To have and to hold,” Alysona said.

“Always.” He bent to kiss her, then pulled his boots from the basket.

While Brynn finished dressing, Alysona pondered whether other changes were due. Instead of hiding and letting Brynn do for her, she might just walk into Witherow with him next time. Let the folk get used to seeing her. Once they heard of this adventure, they would know there was no evil in her. Besides, she had survived wicked sorcery and a dragon’s ghost. How scary could a few villagers be?

Soon they walked down the slope, hand in hand. The many white stones were once more set firmly in place. Daisy trotted ahead with her tail high, leading them home.

THE END

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A few of my blogging buddies have inspired me by posting Halloween-type fiction. You might enjoy their stories, too. Check it out!

–>C. S. Boyack’s Macabre Maccaroni.

–>N. E. White’s Posession.

–>Charles Yallowitz’s The Raven’s Game.

So here’s a selection from my eternally-forthcoming collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas.
___

THE DRAGON’S GHOST
by Lucy D. Ford

A cold wind blew over the moor, carrying scents of damp earth and heather. Alysona straightened from digging weeds among her turnips. Clutching a woolen shawl around her shoulders, she squinted against the sunset’s glare.

“What do you think, Daisy? Will Brynn be home soon?”

A little orange cat sat atop the stone wall. Alysona, who was very short, reached up to stroke the soft fur. Daisy trilled softly and swished her feathery tail.

“Yes, that must be it,” Alysona agreed with wry humor.

Then she heard faint bleating and a light rumble of hooves. A cheery whistle rose beyond the wall. Hobbling on deformed legs, Alysona went to peer out the gate.

Brynn strode up the dell, whistling to guide their flock. The sheep flowed up the hill like a river of white. Alysona watched for a moment, admiring Brynn’s long legs and strong arms, so different from her own misshapen limbs. He grinned and waved when he saw her. Alysona waved back. How had she been so lucky, to find such a husband?

“Well, shall we see how the potage is doing?” Smiling, she turned toward the stone cottage with its roof thatched with heather. Daisy padded along the wall beside her. They went inside to set the table for supper.

* * *

Hours later, an eerie wail roused her from deep sleep. Her husband cursed in the dark. Rushes crackled as he threw back the warm quilt. The squalling came again.

“Is that Daisy?” Alysona barely recognized the cry of her timid little cat.

“It’s the middle of the night,” Brynn grumbled. Footsteps thudded to the door and he yanked it open. “Daisy — hey!”

Sudden quiet echoed with danger. Alysona sat up, blinking at the empty doorway. Where was Brynn? He’d just been there. Now the weird buzz of Daisy’s growl was the only sound.

A chill washed down her arms. She didn’t want to move, but knew that she must. Alysona padded down wooden steps on her side of the bed and crept forward, clutching the woolen shawl over her chemise. When she reached the door, her knees locked in terror.

“Brynn!”

Her husband floated a few feet away, eyes open and expression blank. Arms and legs drooped toward the floor boards. The guttering hearth fire gave just enough light to reveal three shadows clustered near the outside door.

The intruders were short, as children of ten years, in robes the color and texture of charcoal. Yet there was nothing childish in their haughty bearing. All had bare skulls and gaunt faces where pale eyes blazed with malefic fever. The tallest appeared masculine, the next was a woman, and the third was a youth not yet grown to manhood. All three fixed sinister smiles on her.

“Well met, Alysona,” said the woman.

“How nice to see you,” said the man.

Daisy wailed in terror. Alysona couldn’t see the cat, and assumed she was hidden under a chair. Like her pet, fear held her rooted.

This couldn’t be real. Scary-tales flashed through her mind — a rule of evil marked by incurable sicknesses, night creatures walking in daylight, tolls paid in blood rather than gold.

“Pa-palloe,” she stammered.

“Correct,” said the third one, smug.

“It is good that you recognize your own,” said the woman.

“I’m not!” Alysona gasped. “Just because I’m short doesn’t mean —”

The three awarded each other sly smirks.

“No need for alarm,” said the man, with what might have been meant as reassurance.

“We are merely your neighbors,” said the youth.

“We have watched for some time,” said the woman. “No harm has come to you yet, eh?”

Names were starting to come back to Alysona. Euryx Palloe was the woman, their unholy priestess. Her brother was Gevant, and Firice was the boy of uncertain birth. Knowing their identities gave Alysona a spark of hope, and anger.

“We have nothing here that you’d want. Be off!” Her command was shrill with fear.

“It isn’t what you have,” Firice told her.

“It is what you will do for us,” Gevant said.

“I’ll never help you!”

Her defiance amused them. Euryx Palloe said, “I believe you will.”

The Dwarven sorceress didn’t move, but Brynn drifted a little lower. Alysona couldn’t avoid his sightless stare. The night shirt hung in soft folds, and fine hairs glinted on his slack legs. Her heart twisted to see him so helpless.

“We invite you to our court at Venge Hill,” Gevant Palloe said.

“You know this place,” Firiss Palloe said, not asking if it was true.

Her chin jerked in a nod. Everyone in Witherow Town knew of the cursed keep that had been raised atop an ancient mine. Legend said wicked Dwarves from deep in the earth had built it as a favor to Euryx Palloe. Or that all the Palloe family were Dwarves passing as human.

Grasping for a shred of control, Alysona took up the tale. “The dragon Cazarluun threw down your towers and curled around the hill, to guard it forever.”

“How pleasant that you know our family history.” Euryx’s smile held the edge of a dagger.

“We’re not family!” Alysona cried, aghast.

“Aren’t we?” Gevant mocked.

“No!” Alysona denied any connection between her and these evil Dwarves.

“The dragon died, as all things must,” Firiss resumed.

“His bones are still there,” said Gevant.

And Euryx said, “We want a bone.”

“Why do you want it?” Alysona clung to her fury against the fear that threatened to choke her. She regretted it when all three focused on her with the keen interest of a vulture for a dying cow.

“If we were to tell you that, you would have to join our coven,” said Euryx.

“Is that your wish?” Gevant taunted.

“It’s been a long time since I had a playmate.” Firice leered at her.

Alysona glared at them, her face hot.

“Bring us a bone,” Gevant commanded. “Large or small, any bone will do.”

“Bring it to Venge Hill,” Firiss said.

Daisy squalled under the chair, but Euryx ignored her.

“Until we have a bone from Cazarluun’s skeleton, your dear Brynn will be visiting with us.”

“No!” Alysona wailed like the cat.

Too late, she found strength to move. She leapt, grabbing for her husband’s shoulder, but the three Palloes raised their hands. Instead of finding warm flesh, Alysona plunged into inky shadow. She crashed to the floor, overcome.

* * *

Sense returned, sluggish as molasses on a winter’s morn. Alysona lay numb, hardly feeling the braided rug beneath her cheek. The only warmth in a world of dread came from a furry ball pressed against her shoulder. Rhythmic shuddering steadied into Daisy’s near-silent purr.

Alysona wobbled to her feet, while her startled cat disappeared under a chair. Panic made her desperate to run, to escape — but where could she go? What could she do? She clung to a chair back and willed blurry eyes to work.

The stone cottage held no sign of a disturbance. All was as it had been: wooden furniture, cooking pots, two chairs at the fireside, one large and one small. Only the bedchamber door stood open, revealing the empty bed.

“Brynn!” Alysona whispered and slumped into the lower chair. Hot tears scalded her cheeks.

Soft fur rubbed back and forth against her knees. Then the orange cat, who never wanted to be held, sprang up to Alysona’s lap. On any other day, it would have been a miracle to relish. Now Alysona just sobbed into the furry armload.

How could she go on without Brynn? Bleak memories churned in her mind. Taunts and stones thrown at her, the freak with stunted arms and legs, who would never grow taller than a ten-year-old child. In Witherow Town, men made horns when they thought she couldn’t see. Women dragged her playmates away, scolding them for being near her. And the rumors about how her parents, both ordinary sized, had come to birth such an unnatural creature in their stone house on the moors.

They all thought she was touched by Palloe’s evil. Even the Palloes said so. Only Brynn paid no mind to gossip. He laughed at the sign of the horns and caught the stones as they flew. He had wed Alysona against his parents’s command, and when they rejected his bride, he’d come to live in her lonely little house on the moors.

Five years, she’d felt safe in the strength of Brynn’s love. He handled all their dealings in Witherow, so she didn’t have to be stared at. Brynn took Alysona’s yarn to market and brought extra food home. And if Brynn simply vanished? How folk would talk! They’d waste no time in branding her a witch, the wicked Dwarf who lured her husband to his ruin.

A shrill mew startled her. Alysona sat up, and Daisy sprang down from her lap.

“Did I squeeze too hard? I’m sorry, little sweet,” she sniffled.

Retreating to the far end of the hearth, the orange cat set about putting her rumpled coat back in order.

Moving slowly as an old woman, Alysona built up the fire and dressed as if this were an ordinary day. Sturdy wool skirt and bodice over her chemise, heavy boots for farm work, a scarf over her hair. She stirred a pot of groats until they boiled. Curse the Palloes and their blighted ways! Alysona shuddered at the memory of their naked skulls and the deadly confidence as Euryx Palloe delivered her threats. It sickened her to think of doing what they wanted.

After eating, she shuffled about the farm yard, gathering eggs and milking the cow. Silent little Daisy followed in every step. All the while, Euryx’s voice whispered in Alysona’s memory, “Your dear Brynn will be visiting with us.”

She drew up all her meager height to stare eastward. Crimson sunrise made her blink. A quiet mew came from down by her knees.

“I know.” Alysona swallowed against a tight knot in her throat. She couldn’t turn her back on Brynn.

Thistles poked up among her cabbages, and the sheep bleated to be let out, but all of that must wait. Once milk and eggs were tucked away in the cold cellar, she packed Brynn’s clothes into a hamper and closed up her little stone cottage.

As she trudged out the gate, a shrill mew came after her. Startled, Alysona looked back. The orange cat lingered in the gateway. Even though she was free to come and go, Daisy almost never went beyond the gate.

“You could let me carry you,” Alysona suggested. Not that a cat would be much help, but she wouldn’t feel so alone.

Daisy’s ears angled back and her tail lashed. Alysona felt abandoned, but she couldn’t let it stop her.

“I’ll be back soon,” she vowed, and plodded on her way. Moments later, to her relief, light steps pattered after her.

To be continued on October 31st!

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bluedragon

Glaucus atlanticus is a little but lethal beast of the seven seas. Its nicknames include Blue Dragon, Blue Angel, and Sea Swallow. These are a type of sea slug, or nudibranch, that lives just at the ocean surface. Blue dragons spend most of their lives floating upside-down and drifting with currents and tides. They can swim slowly using their cerata, the delicate-looking fin/fingers, but mostly just hang out and wait for prey.

Their striking silver and blue coloration camouflages them in their marine habitat. The silvery back faces down, so that they disappear against the bright ocean surface, while the striped belly (actually the foot) faces up to blend with ripples and eddies.

Blue dragons are tiny, just over 1 inch long, but they are potentially quite dangerous. Their prey are jellyfish, whose stings they are naturally immune to. They can even take on large jellies like the Man-o-War. After eating, they save the jellyfish stingers in pockets on their cerata. Thus, though not venomous themselves, they can deliver a nasty sting when threatened.

Due to their drifting behavior, blue dragons are found almost everywhere the sea is warm, from Australia through India and South Africa, and up to Southern Europe. A separate but related species inhabits the Pacific Ocean. At present it does not appear these tiny dragons are threatened or endangered. They can be kept in aquariums because of their beautiful colors.

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Look what I found at the thrift store!

100_1021
Hafzilla is thirsty, too.

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A few years ago, my husband went to a sidewalk sale where a sportswear manufacturer was selling excess jerseys and such. He came home with several that had been demonstrator pieces showing the imprinting options. He isn’t into football, but it gave him something to wear when his company proclaimed a Football Friday at the office.

On such an occasion he wore a dark green jersey with yellow lettering that said DRAGONS. A suspicious co-worker asked, “What team is that?”

He said, “It’s a quidditch team!” All the staff who were readers broke out laughing.

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Since dragons are widely known for their ferocity and power, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many organizations have chosen dragons as their team mascots and symbols. Here in the US, there are:

The Dayton Dragons, a minor league basball team.
The Chesapeake Dragons and San Antonio Dragons play minor league hockey.
The Los Angeles Dragons, New York Dragons, and Wisconsin Dragons are minor league American-football teams. (Wisconsin is a women’s team.) Fantasy football, indeed!

Dragons are equally poplar with institutes for higher learning. The Drexel University, Lane College, Tiffin University, and Minnesota State University mascots are all Dragons. High schools like St. George’s School, in my home town, call the Dragons their own.

Internationally, there are at least three Dragon teams in China (ice hockey, baseball and basketball), two in South Korea (football), and one each in Japan (baseball) and the Philippines (basketball). Another three Dragon teams in Africa all play soccer. Teams in Europe play rugby, soccer and American football. No fewer than four Dragon teams play rugby in Australia and the Pacific Islands.

And this doesn’t even cover the sports league for dragon boat racing!

Check this Disambiguation Page for a total list of nearly fifty international Dragon sports teams. Whatever sports you follow, you can find some Dragons to cheer on!

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Those dragons, they are everywhere!

photo by Deby Fredericks

photo by Deby Fredericks

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