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Monthly Short Story Winner: Dragons

Mountain Dragon by Mikeypetrov

This month we decided to give you a treat. Something grand. Something terrifying. Creatures you complained about being not depicted as they should be. This month our entrants wrote about dragons! Absolve yourself and picture them as the menacing, intelligent, magical, godlike terrors they are. Or not. You never know what our writers are going to come up with!

Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Must contain one or more dragons of any flavour you like. They should be crucial to the story. A dragon always influences the world around it.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.

This month’s winning story was by John Kelly, with “The Fishwife’s Tale”.

Congrats on your win, John!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

– – –

“The Fishwife’s Tale”
by John Kelly

In our village lived a fishwife named Lo. Her husband was caught out in a great storm and all that came back were the broken planks of his boat. Lo was swept with an anger deeper than the sea and greater than the clouds. People began to avoid her, since all she did was frown and mutter. She nagged at her neighbors. She yelled at her friends. She cursed at the priests.

The lord mayor summoned her before him. “You’ve put the whole town into an uproar. What is it that can satisfy you?”

“Only this,” cried Lo. “To see my husband here before me. To touch him. To embrace him. To show him the deepest feeling of my soul.” Tears streaked her face, and she rubbed them furiously aside.

The mayor saw in Lo a woman who would never cease being a nuisance, and thought to be rid of her. “You know, of course, that the dragon god of our village lives on the fire island, far over the sea.”

Lo nodded.

“What you do not know,” the mayor continued, lowering his voice to a whisper, “is that the dragon will grant an appeal if he finds it worthy.”

Lo’s eyes grew wide.

“I will lend you a boat,” the mayor continued, “so that you may beg the dragon to return your husband to you.” The mayor hoped, of course, that the sea or the storm or the dragon itself would take the irritating fishwife to meet her husband in the grave.

Lo went down to the shingle beach where the boats were pulled up from the surf at night. They gave her an old dinghy that had been taking up space for years. Lo spat, and got to work.

She pulled out rotted boards and replaced them, nailing them down with fish hooks from her husband’s gear. She sanded the bottom, and sealed it with pitch. She braced the sides with whale bones, and wove a sail from shells that glistened in the breeze like scales.

When all was ready, Lo dragged the boat down to the water. The fishermen laughed at her. “If you go out now, the tide will be against you. And besides, the current around the god’s island is deadly. You will never make it to the shore alive. Wait for dragon weather. Maybe then you’ll find a way.”

Of course, the fishermen were having a laugh at Lo’s expense. Everyone knew that dragon weather – when the sea is blanketed with an ashy mist and filled with the glow of flame from the island peak – came rarely in one lifetime or even in two.

So Lo sat on her boat and waited for the fire and fog, barely eating and never sleeping. Her ribs stuck out and her hair grew thin, but she continued to shriek and berate even those who tried to help. The mayor regretted his plan, since it seemed he would never be rid of her.

Then one morning, the sea stilled, a brown fog rolled in, and warmth filled the air. Beyond the fishing fields, beyond the furthest sight of shore, a bloody, glowing crimson filtered across the dim horizon. Lo took two oars, her sails of shell, a long fishing spike, and a sharpening stone. She took along her anger too: forged, pounded and tempered.

The entire village turned out to see her leave, and no one laughed.

The journey was long, with not much worth the telling. Lo met mermaids, who welcomed her at first, then swam away at the bitterness of her greeting. She put up her sail of shell when the ash wind blew strong, and birds gathered to watch the strange boat glide by. The muttering of the wake against its hull was like the grinding of teeth, so that every living thing avoided it from then on. When night fell, Lo pulled down the sail, then sat sharpening her spike from dusk to dawn.

On the second morning of Lo’s journey, the dragon island rose at last like a fang from the mist. She drew up onto a beach of black sand and razor sharp stones. She took her spike and began the climb to the glowering peak. Ancient stairs were carved into the mountainside, and though she used them, the way was long and hard.

When the steps rose at last above the mist. Lo blinked in the light of a sparkling blue sky. She raised her eyes, and there, curled around a pillar of rock, its claws long, its jaws wide, and its armor gleaming in the sun, Lo beheld the dragon god, terrible, vast and wise.

Lo stepped onto a wide rock table, and raised her voice. “Dragon! God of my people!” she called. “Wake, and hear me!”

Minutes went by, and Lo called again. Her anger built, and she cursed the island’s master. “Wake! Devils take you. Wake!”

At last, she pried a stone and sent it slinging against the dragon’s side. It clanked against the silver scales like a coin against a bell.

The dragon opened an eye. “Are you this much trouble at home?” it asked in a voice as deep as the ocean and as great as the clouds.

“More, I think,” Lo answered. “My neighbors won’t have me, and the priests avoid me. The mayor gave me a boat to sail here, though I’m not so foolish as to wonder why.”

The dragon opened its other eye, and turned its great feathered head toward her. “Nor, am I.” The dragon sighed, its breath like a withering wind. “And I suppose that if I do not give you what you want, then the only way to be rid of you is to eat you.”

Lo brandished the sharpened spike. “You’ll find me a thorny meal!” The needle-like point glinted in the light.

“Yes,” said the dragon. “I suppose I would. Very well, then. Name your heart’s desire. If I find it worthy, I might grant it. If I don’t, I may just have to eat a thorny breakfast.”

The angry fishwife set her feet apart and raised a fist. “My husband!” she cried. “I want my husband returned to me, for the sea took him before his time, and the storm grabbed him before I gave farewell.”

The dragon closed its eyes. For long minutes it sat silent, while the sun traced its burning arc and the cold moon rose to join it. “In the deep caves of my mountain are all the souls the sea has snared,” it said at last. “I have your husband, and I can give him back to you. But before I decide, you must tell me how you want him. Do you want him like this?”

A vision came to Lo of her husband’s drowned body, fish-bit and bloated. “No,” she said. “I do not want him like that.”

“Then’ said the dragon, “do you want him like this?”

Another vision came. In this one, Lo’s husband held a firstborn son in his arms, smiling and proud.

“No,” said Lo. “I do not want him like that.”

“Ah,” said the dragon. “Then do you want him like this?”

This time, the vision came as many moments woven together. Lo’s husband bringing nothing to their table. Lo’s husband smelling of sour beer and vomit. Lo’s husband sleeping with the tavern woman.

“Yes,” said Lo, bitter tears filling her eyes. “Yes, for that is who he was, and that is how I want him.”

“I find this worthy,” said the dragon. “What a fortunate man, to have so loyal a wife.” He closed his eyes once more. The sun passed behind the limits of the earth, and stars blossomed in the gardens of the night. “Here,” said the god, and suddenly Lo’s husband stood before her. “Take him, and let me sleep in peace.” The dragon’s body darkened from silver to deepest black, and the vastness of the god faded away to nothing.

Lo’s husband ran his fingers through his hair, and smiled a slanting grin at her.

Lo embraced him. Then she raised the sharped spike up high and plunged it through his chest, shattering his ribs, and driving his cheating heart out the other side. The very rock of the mountain reeled with shock, and then a deep laugh rumbled at its core.

Down the stair in the dark Lo passed. Down the blackened beach she dragged her boat. Down the slopes of massive waves she sailed her shell-sharp boat.

She came with the morning to the harbor of our village, and the townsfolk shivered to see her smile. Lo let it be known she’d welcome another husband. No man ever dared it.”

– – –

Congratulations again to John Kelly! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by Mikeypetrov.

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