Posts Tagged ‘Deby Fredericks’

Long ago, in ancient Greece, the physician Hippocrates (originator of the Hippocratic Oath), had a daughter who was so lovely that she rivaled the denizens of Olympus itself. The goddess Diana became jealous and transformed the daughter into a terrible dragon. The girl’s curse could only be lifted if she found a knight who was brave enough to kiss her in her horrifying state. Even then, it was foretold that she would live only a short time longer.

Shunned by all, the unfortunate young lady retreated to the island of Langho. There she was regarded as a sovereign ruler, but languished alone and hopeless. An old castle was her dwelling. She could reclaim her human form just three days each year, and as a dragon never harmed anyone who didn’t attack her first.

As word of the lady’s condition got out, a few knights turned up hoping to save her and become lord of Langho. First was a Knight of the Hospital from nearby Rhodes. Alas, before this knight had a chance to approach, his horse caught sight of the dragon. It bolted in panic and carried him right over a cliff.

The second to attempt wasn’t a knight at all, but a sailor whose ship had stopped to get supplies on Langho. While on shore leave, he wandered into the lady’s castle and was struck by the sight of her in her dressing room, surrounded by a hoard of treasure. Not knowing of the legend, he for some reason assumed she was a prostitute and, um… asked to be her lover.

Remembering the terms of her curse, the lady demanded to know if he was a knight. He admitted that he wasn’t, so she told him he must go and be knighted before he could kiss her. Returning to his ship, the sailor persuaded his captain to “knight” him and came back the next day. Alas, the lady’s one day as a human was over. When the sailor saw her true form, he fled from her. Wailing in despair, the lady pursued him, but he reached his ship and sailed away, leaving her forlorn.

So, we are told, the Lady of Langho remains trapped in her bestial form until this very day. If only a true and noble knight would be brave enough to kiss a dragon, she might be freed from eternal torment.

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Legend tells that a dragon named Blue Ben once lived in the county of Somerset, on the west coast of England. He dwelt in shale caves near the sea, so if his fiery breath over-heated him he could dip into the waves and refresh himself.

Blue Ben was huge, as all dragons are. Due to his great size, he sometimes got stuck in the mud flats along the Somerset coast. The legend says that, in order to save himself, the dragon built a limestone causeway so he could reach solid ground without becoming trapped.

Ben seems to have been a mild-mannered dragon. There’s little mention of him ravaging the countryside or devouring livestock. Alas, being a good neighbor did not spare the mighty beast. The Devil himself happened to spy the dragon frolicking in the waves. He cast a spell that chained Blue Ben’s will. Poor Ben became the Devil’s steed for a wild ride all through the fires of Hell.

No one knows how long this went on. The dragon ultimately freed himself and escaped back to Somerset. Desperately hot and tired, he flung himself into the water to cool off as he usually did. Alas, he had chosen a spot far from his causeway. As he emerged from the sea, Blue Ben became stuck in the mire. No matter how he struggled, he couldn’t get free. In the end, he succumbed to his exhaustion and was entombed in the mud. A sad end for such a magnificent creature.

True fact #1: Blue Ben’s “causeway” is a naturally occurring limestone formation that resembles a paved road. Several sections can be seen along the coast, near the town of Kilve.

True fact #2: In the 19th Century, a shale quarry outside Kilve yielded the fossil skull of an ichthyosaur. The local people immediately proclaimed that this was the skull of Blue Ben. The fossil can still be seen in a Somerset museum.

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In line with Fairy Dragons, which I mentioned last week, there is a whole sub-genre of books that feature baby dragons. Some of these are juvenile novels where a youth protagonist cares for one or more baby dragons. The emphasis here is on compassionate kids taking care of beasts that their parents regard as dangerous and terrifying.

One example is Susan Fletcher’s Dragon Chronicles series: Dragon’s Milk (1989), Flight of the Dragon Kyn (1993), Flight of the Dove (1996) and Ancient, Strange and Lovely (2010). A did a series review a while back. A more recent series is Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George: Dragon Slippers (2006), Dragon Flight (2008), and Dragon Spear (2009). Here’s my review.

Sometimes the main character is a young dragon, as with the graphic novel series, Dragonbreath (started in 2009) by Ursula Vernon.

And how could I forget Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider series? I really need to get to those books some day.

There’s also a category of picture books featuring dragon characters. Sometimes there is an actual baby dragon, but more often a child character is coping with draconic behavior. Some that I’ve reviewed are Dragons Love Tacos (2012) by Adam Rubin, and Dragon Was Terrible (2016) by Kelly DiPucchio.

I’d suspect these are intended for fantasy-loving parents who want to introduce the genre to their young children. So if you have kids or grandkids, by all means go on a “dragon hunt” in your local bookstore or library. You never know what you’ll find!

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Here’s a teasing video from YouTube. “Do you believe this baby dragon is real?” the videographer asks.

I believe it is a real resin casting with lovely paint, and I wish he’d said where you can buy these!

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Fairy dragons are a relatively modern iteration of the legendary dragon. The difference between fairy dragons and traditional dragons are obvious. Instead of being huge and dangerous, these dragons are little and cute. Fairy dragons are small enough to ride on wrists and shoulders. Rather than menacing people, they prefer to cuddle.

Miniature dragons first appeared in SF and fantasy fiction during the early 1970s. For example, Anne McCaffrey created “fire lizards” in her second Pern novel, Dragonquest, published in 1971. Alan Dean Foster introduced his “mini-dragon” Flinx, half of the Pip and Flinx duo, in 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang. 

Smaller dragons began to appear in wider circles. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons included “faerie dragons” in a 1982 issue of Dragon Magazine. By now these small dragons are part of many games, including World of Warcraft, and have become a perennial subject in fantasy art.

Most versions of a fairy dragons do have some powers. Flinx carries a deadly poison, while faerie dragons have the power to charm and confuse. This makes them more useful pets and companions than your typical dogs and cats. Still, I have to admit, something in me balks at turning the magnificent dragon into a mere plaything.

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I have my first response on The Gellboar! Jerome D. said by e-mail, “The Gellboar is a thrilling short story by a fantasy writer at the top of her genre.  By turns chilling, titillating and heart-warming, it is heartily recommended for fans of dystopian magical cosplay with surprise twists.” Thanks, Jerome!

If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Get it now!

Part 7

Christine abruptly set down her glass. “Hey! Talk to me, pal.”

He shook his head. “It’s my business. My family. I’ll deal with it.”

“How can you say that?” She reached across the table, closing hard fingers over his clasped hands. “That thing is going to kill you. You have to get rid of it.”

“No.” He jerked away, putting his hands on his knees, where he didn’t have to look at the mark. “I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, right.” She leaned back, folding her arms across her chest. “You’ll be fine right up until you keel over.” Then her harsh voice softened. “What’s going to happen to Grace when you die?”

“I’m not going to die.” He had to believe that. If he thought for a moment the Gellboard would win, he would borrow Christine’s gun and shoot himself. At least that way he could deprive the monster of his psais.

The woman propped her chin in her hand and added a bit more liquor to her glass. “So where’s your family? Or your wife’s family?”

“They’re out of town.”

Like Dan, Marilyn had been a runaway. She said her parents were in Yabble, but she wouldn’t even discuss contacting them and she wouldn’t say why. Of course, there were a few things Dan had never told Marilyn, either.

“Out of town, where?” Christine’s gentle tone unnerved him more than her abruptness had.

“Ettloes, in my case.”

She raised her brows. “That’s practically the Holy Mother’s backyard, isn’t it?”

“That’s why I had to leave.”

Her eyes suddenly took on a calculating expression. “That’s farmland, isn’t it? Ever worked with cattle?”

The sudden change of moods made him wary. “Dairy cattle,” he admitted.

“Can you buck hay bales?”

“Ladies don’t buck hay bales,” Dan laughed. To further his feminine persona, he strictly avoided any activity that might build muscle mass.

“Silly of me to forget.” But she was smiling. Dan just watched her, passively feeling with his psais for her motives. She wouldn’t be asking without a reason.

Christine took a sip of her drink, and then said, “If you don’t want to break the spell, maybe I can make you a better offer.”

“Like what?”

“Well, my brother runs cattle on a couple thousand acres in Ishe. He might be able to use a hand, especially if you can ride a horse.”

“I can’t ride a horse. Why doesn’t he find someone a little closer to home?”

She shrugged. “The local boys, they don’t want to stick around. It’s too quiet, and they don’t make enough money. So they leave for Yabble or Kroi, the bigger towns. There’s always work for someone who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And the locals, they love to see new kids in the area.”

Dan thought about that. It wasn’t like he wanted to stay in Chantain. The city was big and busy, but it drained your life while you weren’t looking. Still, that didn’t mean farming was what he wanted instead.

Christine went on, “My folks own the place, but my brother’s running it. I could call and ask him.”

“You hardly know me,” he pointed out. It was her turn to laugh.

“Pal, I know more about you than you’d like! What do you have to stay here for?”

“I couldn’t have left,” he answered evenly. “Grace’s doctors are here.”

That was only half the truth, of course. All his contacts were in Chantain. He would have to completely re-establish his career in a new place.

“What about my magic?” Dan asked. “I don’t plan to give it up.”

She sat back, sipped her drink. “Technically, it’s illegal, but there aren’t any neighbors close enough to snoop. Anyway, folks mind their own business, out there. Besides, Mike might be able to use another magician. I do the enchanting when I’m there, but I travel a lot, too. It would be good to have some backup.”

It might also give him something more satisfying to do. Dan hadn’t chosen stage magic because he enjoyed performing. Cheap illusions in cheap clubs — what was that worth? It had just been a convenient way to have magic without all the questions asked.

Of course, he could also go south, toward Chull, where the power of the Mother-God was weakest. The bog-witches were famous for their curses. That might be just the sort of thing he needed. But there would be a price for such power. Dan wasn’t even done with the Gelboar yet. He didn’t want to get tangled up in something else that might be just as nasty.

Christine lifted her cup again, waiting while he thought things out.

“It sounds good,” Dan admitted. Too good to be true, his mind amended.

“Smart boy,” she said, and there was a gleam of triumph in her eye. “I’ll call him tomorrow.”

A suspicion blossomed in his mind. “You just want to keep an eye on me,” he accused.

She didn’t deny it. “Someone’s got to. What if you can’t get rid of the life link when you want to?”

Dan glared at her, his earlier jealousy returning in a venomous rush. It was all so easy for her. Christine Cooper had never had to lie to protect herself. She had never held a loved one, so wasted she seemed nothing but bones and air, while her breath grew fainter, fainter. The Gellboar had to pay for what she’d done to Marilyn. Come to that, Dan didn’t know if Grace was really all right.

Still, he did have to think of the future. He’d had enough of his furtive existence, living hand to mouth and moment to moment. There was nothing wrong with moving on, especially if it meant securing shelter for Grace. If Christine was going to insist on interfering, he might as well use her. Dan had learned all about using people, these last few years.

Stiffly, he admitted, “The fresh air might do Grace some good.”

Christine set down her empty cup and smiled broadly. “Now you’re thinking.”

“I can go as soon as we’re done at The Cauldron. I’ll need cash for the road.” Dan forced a smile. “It’ll be just us girls.”

“An all-girl road trip!” Christine threw back her head and laughed, a response out of proportion to the weak joke. Relieved to end the confrontation, maybe. Or just thinking she had won. Like the Gellboar thought she had won.

Dan’s stomach tightened again, a bitter knot of guilt and rage. It wasn’t over between them. That filthy female was going to pay for hurting Marilyn and Grace. No one was going to get in the way of that. Not even the real Christine Cooper.

That’s it! The story you’ve waded through… uh, savored and told all your friends about. Check back next time for a return to my usual dragony goodness.

I hope you enjoyed my dark fantasy novelette. Comments and reviews would be much appreciated.

Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Get it now!

Part 6

“Dan, are you nuts?” Christine demanded sharply. “Hold still,” she hissed, shoving at the Gellboar with her gun. “Dan, you can’t do that.”

“I have to,” he quavered, shoulders heaving as if he held back tears. “This is my daughter we’re talking about. She’ll die if I don’t.”

“You’re not thinking clearly. Look, Dan, we’ve captured the creature who’s responsible for her illness. All we have to do is call the police —”

“Now you’re crazy,” he retorted with shrill desperation. “Look at me!”

That gave her pause, as if she had somehow forgotten he was wearing pantyhose and a red satin dress.

Casually, as if she believed herself already triumphant, the Gellboar turned to remind Christine, “That would be most unwise. I, too, have forbidden knowledge. If I am accused, there is no reason I should not retaliate.”

“You won’t if you’re dead,” she barked, but even Dan could tell she didn’t mean it. And he didn’t have time to waste arguing.

“Look, I appreciate your help, but you’ve got to get out of the way.” Christine frowned dauntingly. “I’ll stand the risk, if that’s what it takes to save my daughter. It’s my fault she’s so sick. I have to make it right.”

“That’s a bunch of bull! You’re…”

“I know what I’m doing,” he insisted, hoping she would pick up the subtle message.

A low wail interrupted them. Dan turned to see Grace huddled against the head of her bed, as far from the tense tableau as she could get. Her eyes were dazed with interrupted sleep, the thin face striped with vertical tracks of tears. A soft doll was crushed against her chest.

A single step and Dan knelt beside the bed. “Grace, honey, it’s me. It’s Daddy. I’m here.”

He tried to take her in his arms, but she struggled and shrieked, panting with exertion her gaunt frame was not prepared to sustain. Her eyes remained fixed on the Gellboar. Seeing Daddy wear a dress and the strange woman with the gun didn’t frighten her, but the monstrous presence was just too much.

“It’s okay. You’re okay,” he murmured urgently, shifting his body to shield her from the sight. All that got him was a clout from a flailing arm. He rocked back momentarily, rubbing his chin, and reluctantly raised his wand. The sleep spell washed over her, and she fell back with a choked gasp. As her frantic pants gave way to even, deep breathing, Dan eased his daughter down gently.

“I’m sorry, darling,” he murmured.

“Allow me,” said a cold, grainy voice.

Dan tensed as the Gellboar leaned past him, but she merely touched Grace’s temple with a forefinger. The hand was humanlike, except there weren’t enough fingers and a cluster of tentacles curled purposefully against the wrist. Dan felt a flare of psais which quickly faded. He elbowed his enemy back and covered his daughter gently.

There was no need to fake a tremor in his voice as he stood. “Let’s get this over with,” he announced to no one in particular.

“Dan,” Christine started again.

“Shut up.”

He pushed past her and her arguments. The Gellboar’s heavy tread and Christine’s lighter steps followed him into the kitchen. The parchment was still in his purse on the sofa. He had to sign it before the creature noticed his revisions. Dan yanked the document out and whirled, slapping it onto the kitchen counter. Quickly he applied the marker to the stiff sheet.

A moment later he felt a strong tingling, as if he had lost circulation all over his body. Dizzy, he leaned on the counter. The sensation localized as a throbbing ache on the back of his left hand. Dan felt a momentary nausea as he realized what he’d done. The Gellboar was at his elbow again, and he shoved the page at her.

“There,” he said hoarsely. “Now get out.”

The creature took the sheet with an insouciance that made his blood boil. Her inhuman eyes gleamed with… what? Satisfaction? Contempt? Dan saw no mercy, at any rate. She carefully folded the parchment and slid it into the trench coat’s inside vest pocket. The door swung open and then shut. Just like that, she was gone.

Dan leaned on the counter for a moment longer, staring at the door. He absently rubbed the back of his hand, where the pain had died to a nagging itch. Under his fingers, he now saw, was a written mark, one of the runes on the  alien creature’s sheet.  The blunt lines were the vivid color of a new scab.

Beside him, Christine stood half-dressed, with her arms folded and the pistol lying over the crook of her elbow. She gave him a long, hard stare.

“What are you smiling about?”

* * *

While Christine was in the living room, finishing her change of clothes, Dan retreated to his bedroom to do the same. Tired as he was, he longed to wear his own pants, to put on a man’s shirt with the buttons on the right side. It was even more of a relief to get out of the lingerie. The padding, which created the illusion of a female form, was hot and sticky with sweat. The wig caught painfully in his natural hair as he yanked it off.

Dan wadded up the whole outfit and stuffed it into a plastic shopping bag. This he shoved on the upper shelf in his closet as far back as it would go. But he still felt the weight of cosmetics on his skin, clinging like the static in the dress. He hurried into the bathroom, and was jarred by his image in the mirror.

Even with his natural hair, a dark crew cut, he might have been looking at Marilyn. He hadn’t realized how much he patterned his stage persona on her, but it was true. He wore her clothes, did his makeup and wig just like her. It was as if, somehow, he was trying to keep Marilyn alive.

Dan could no longer meet his own gaze in the mirror. He looked instead to the rust-stained bowl of his sink and twisted the knob to turn on the water. In the coldest possible spray, he scrubbed until he felt breathless. With a towel pressed to his face, he slumped down on the toilet seat.

Everything was off tonight, his whole life turned upside-down. It was as if the interior landscape of his grief and fear distorted the mundane world around him. The unpleasant realities he had become immured to were suddenly intolerable.

His head pounded and his eyes burned, but Dan did not cry. He would not cry. Grace needed him. He had to keep going for her sake. He had let Marilyn down, failed to protect her from the monster that sapped her vitality. He couldn’t stand it if he blew it again.

There was a shuffle outside the bathroom door, and a fast, hard tapping. “You okay in there?” Christine asked from the other side of the door.

“Suck it up, Dan,” he said to himself, and stood. Aloud, he answered, “Fine.”

“Then get out here.”

A narrow silver band sat on the counter above the sink, just where he left it when he went to work. He slipped the cold weight onto his finger. With the towel draped over his shoulders, Dan joined Christine in the kitchen. It felt strange to be bare-faced, wearing men’s clothes and his own hair. He could see her pale eyes roving, taking in the details of his altered appearance. As for Christine, she had completed her transformation from glittering performer into everyday citizen by putting on a pair of blue jeans and tucking in the tails of her shirt. Her pale hair was pulled into a long braid, neat and tight.

She must have gone through his cupboards, because a pair of plastic juice glasses sat on the rickety card table in the kitchen. Ice glinted within them. An elderly folding chair creaked as Dan sat down. Christine casually drew a flask from her hip pocket and poured an amber liquid into one of the cups.

“Want some?” she offered crisply.

“No thanks.” He pushed the glass away.

Since Marilyn died, Dan was no stranger to drink. But being a cross-dresser meant never losing self-control, so he also had a good sense for when not to drink. Besides, his stomach still felt sour. Across the table, pale eyes narrowed.

“So this is it,” Christine said in the same flat, unfriendly drawl she had used earlier.

“What is what?” he asked.

“This is it,” she repeated. “The monster wins. You take the life link, it eats you up and makes more monsters. Then you die. The end.”

Dan stared at his left hand, where the dark sigil branded him as the Gellboar’s meat. He covered the mark with his right hand.

“It’s not the end.”

“Then what?” she demanded.

Dan shut his lips firmly. From his bedroom window he had seen the red glare of a neon sign, a brewer’s logo of fire. The sign stood in the heart of an alien enclave called Styggold. It was only about ten blocks away, an easy walk for the Gellboar. Trains ran night and day from Styggold Station, so it was too late to find his enemy there. She could be anywhere by now, and the life link would operate no matter where she went.

But, Dan thought with dark satisfaction, the Gellboar had accepted the contract without seeing that he’d added a clause. That meant this link wasn’t limited just to psais. Dan could cast any spell he wanted through the link, and the Gellboar’s magical defenses would not protect it. He just needed time to think up a fitting punishment for all it had done. One curse might not be enough.

To be continued…

More coming on Tuesday. Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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