As many of you know I love utilizing prompts to spark an idea for writing a story. This one is no exception, although it ran a little longer than I envisioned.
The hike started like any other, but certainly didn’t end that way. My discovery changed everything in my life. I am, however, getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
As an avid hiker and explorer of new trails, most weekends see me driving to a new location. Fully equipped for every eventuality I can walk for a day – easily. My favorite time to walk is on vacation. These are better as they give me more time to explore and map out my routes to encompass as many trials as possible over a week or two. It is one vacation hike; I want to talk about –the one that started the mayhem.
With a ten-day vacation ahead, I’d researched, planned and mapped out my routes for each day. Invested in a new one-person tent, renewed supplies, and checked and double checked everything before packing it all in the most economical way possible in my rucksack. I walked with the fully loaded rucksack each evening to source any areas that might chafe or bruise. With several adjustments made and additional padding added, I was happy and comfortable with my survival pack.
On the first morning of my vacation, I woke up early, too excited to sleep in. I pulled on my trusty hiking boots, grabbed two large bottles of cold water, and carried my rucksack to the car. It was a glorious early summer morning, full of birdsong and too early for the commuters to drown out their song with the ever-present vehicle engine drone of rush hour. After a quick inventory, I locked the front door and settled into the driver’s seat. The GPS burst into life and announced the time my journey would take. After a short detour to pick up breakfast at the drive thru, I was on my way. New places, new adventures and sights were ahead of me.
Prior to starting my hike, there was a quick stop for the restroom, another high protein meal and water bottle refill. With my orientation map hanging in its clear plastic folder on my belt, I set off up a slight incline into the lush greenery of a forest in the foothills. There were few cars in the car park when I left, but I put my route, time of departure and estimated time of return and personal details on a piece of paper on my dashboard. It was a safety feature, I adopted many years earlier, after getting lost on my first solo hike. Three hours later, I arrived at my destination.
I breathed in the mountain air and took in the sights, sounds and smells of my environment. With any easy stride, I enjoyed the air being just warm enough to be pleasant rather than stifling hot. A breeze whispered through the branches carrying the pine aroma toward me. This was my happy place.
As the sun reached its zenith, I broke free of the tree line to be welcomed by a spectacular view of mountain peaks across a valley. The pine needle trail petered out underfoot and changed to a rocky plateau. Taking my map out, I orientated myself, and began the descent into the valley. This was my destination for the night. My plan to camp beside the river and make my way back to my vehicle the following day by an alternative route. An hour later, sitting on an outcrop drinking water, I displaced a collection of stones. They tumbled downward and I expected them to keep falling but they stopped. Curious I leaned over to see what obstacle had halted their descent. There was a ledge jutting out beneath the one I was sitting on. With measured steps I made way down the incline to discovery a small cave. Taking my flashlight out, I shone it into the interior to have a million reflected lights shine back. Blinking at the sudden illumination, I giggled in surprise. The rock face inside was filled with crystals. This was a first for me, a real discovery. I took several photos using my cell phone flash and the flashlight to capture the glint and shine of the cave interior. I called out and was answered by an echo.
I advanced into the cave depths, sweeping my light from side to side, enjoying the reflected light of the crystals. They became more brightly coloured the deeper I walked until I reached a hollow shape on the floor. I expected a pool of water but instead nestled inside was an egg. It was dark shelled with a cracked line zig-zagging along its length. It was unlike any bird’s or snake’s egg I’d ever seen. What was it? Slipping on a glove I picked it up. It was cold, so not viable to my way of thinking. It would be such a treasure to have so I slipped it into a pouch of my rucksack to examine later, once I made camp.
The trail meandered between rocky plateau and the tree line as it descended into the valley floor. The sun was hot, and the shelter of the pine trees was an intermittent relief as I weaved my way downward. As the light changed, I found a good spot to make camp, sheltered by an outcrop, a stream bubbling nearby and a supply of large rocks to make a campfire. I busied myself with the preparation of my camp, pitching the tent, making a circle of stones for the fire, collecting firewood and placing my sleeping bag and cushioned underlay within the tent’s interior. Satisfied with my camp site, I opened a couple of cans and popped the contents into a pot nestled in the fire. As the aroma of beans and sausages rose, my stomach growled. With only meager rations while walking, I was hungry.
I ate in silence, relishing the spicy sausage and bar-be-que flavoured beans. I followed my meal with two bananas and a multi-grain power bar. It was then I remembered the egg. I pulled it out of the rucksack and examined it closely. The dark charcoal shell was pitted, and the crack looked larger – which I put down to the jiggling in the rucksack it experienced as I walked. At that moment a loud howl echoed nearby and startled me. The egg slipped from my hand and landed in the flames. In a panic I grabbed a long stick and tried to roll it out of the heat. That’s when I saw it gradually change colour. No longer dark and dull but a golden hue emerged as the shell’s top layer peeled away as it got hotter. Transfixed I watched it change. What was this?
The hotter the egg got the more it shone, reflecting the flames orange and red. I heard a sizzle then the egg cracked wide open. What I saw was incomprehensible, my mind was bombarded with scenarios, my eyes blurred. I stumbled backwards, unsure what I should do. There curled up in the egg was some sort of creature. It’s scaled form motionless for an instant. Then it unfurled and opened its golden eyes to fix me with a look of such depth I could not move. My mind would not accept what I was seeing, tried to rationalize it as a dream, a hallucination – anything but what was clearly in front of me. A baby dragon!
My breath escaped me in a rush, I’d been holding my breath for a long time. The dragon rose upward, stretching and yawning. It’s eyes never leaving my face. Unsure how it would react I keep still and watched as it climbed from the shell, walked over the hot coals without a flinch and approached me.
I instinctively shuffled backwards on my hands and bottom. The dragon let out a snort and sniffed my boot. A guttural sound came from the creature and a puff of smoke issued from its mouth. It stumbled backwards, shocked by its own emission, then huffed again. Another small tendril of smoke left its nostrils. All my focus was on the little dragon now. Would it breath fire now? What should I do? I was miles away from civilization and in the presence of a mythical beast. Or one thought to be, anyway.
With tottering steps, the creature grew closer to me, sniffing at my clothes. My hand rested on the earth beside my thigh, and without thought I reached over to touch the little being. It tilted its head at my touch and uttered a burbling sound, almost a deep purring. I cupped my hands and it hopped into them. We were eye to eye, looking into each souls. We reached a non-verbal understanding through a melding of minds. I was the keeper; the protector and my loyalty would be repaid. The dragon shivered and snuggled under my sweater, drawing warmth from my body. I then realized the fire was reduced to embers and restocked it with sticks and logs until it blazed warmth once again. We sat together, a connection made and a future unknown.
Huddled together we slept and in the early morning light I began packing up my camp, taking care to keep my little friend warm with a well-stocked fire. Using a themo-blanket, I wrapped up the creature and nestled under it in my hoodie. With the fire doused with water and inspected to ensure any hot embers were extinguished, I began the trek back to my car. The dragon’s head popped out of the V-neck sniffing and looking side to side. Exploring its surroundings. How would it take to an urban setting after this? At least I had ten more days of vacation to plan what I needed to do.
As we approached the car park, I gently pushed the dragon’s head down, out of sight. With my rucksack thrown into the rear seat, I sat in the driver’s seat wondering what my next step should be. I could feel the creature’s body shifting and wriggling. Looking around to make sure there were no people close to my car, I let its head pop up. The sudden change in scenery was a puzzle to its senses and it blinked several times and inhaled deeply. I looked down and smiled. Then jumped as a hand slapped on my window.
A child of, maybe ten or eleven, was peering into the side window, thumping the glass and chattering excitedly. I turned away to hide the dragon, but the child’s parents were now wide-eyed standing behind their son. With no choice, I pushed down the door lock, turn the engine on and drove out of the car park. Giving a wave and shaking my head as I went. I hoped these witnesses dismissed the sighting.
I drove to my destination, parking with my license plate hidden in an overgrown bush and replaced my trek details on the dash with my new hike. Then I paused – should I really let them know my route. What if the authorities were notified of a strange creature and were in pursuit? I was gripped with a searing sense of protection for my new friend, so intense I discarded my usual safety feature, locked the vehicle door and set off into the wild.
Three hours later, I found a place to sit, drink and eat. Unsure what the dragon needed I cupped my hand and filled it with water. The creature sniffed, licked and then lapped at the liquid. It recoiled at the granary power bar but chewed happily at a pepperoni stick. As we sat looking out toward a broad swathe of forest, nagging thoughts came to mind. How would I get this creature home and keep it safe? Should I take it home or leave it in the forest? What should it eat? How big would it grow? Would it fly? Breath fire!
For four days and nights we traveled the hiking trails, avoiding people, walking and sleeping close together, skin to scale. The more time I spent with the dragon baby the more I became attached. We developed a telepathy between us, dragon would sense humans and make a low grumble sound to alert me. I’d hide and let them pass. I knew its moods; it’s wants and knew it was sensing mine too. Our connection grew stronger with each day.
I experimented with food to feed my little creature and found berries and pepperoni were relished. We stopped to admire a lake one evening and I was startled to witness the dragon leap into the water and catch a fish. So, then I knew the dragon was an omnivore and found sources of nourishment for it, such as berries, and edible plants and allowed it to hunt small mammals at night. I altered my hiking route to encompass a circular route around any large lake or river, so an evening meal of fish was enjoyed. By day ten, we were in total synchronicity.
I came up with a plan by day five and leaving the dragon hidden in my car went to a local toy store, found a dragon-like toy and charred it in a fire-pit. It looked similar to the real thing and was my explanation when needed. I would call it my lucky hiking charm if questioned. With our increased telepathy ability, I only had to think ‘hide’ and the creature withdrew into my hoodie. I had the toy snuggled to one side of my hoodie and the real thing to the other, so it was easy to switch them when we encountered anyone in a car park or public place.
Apart from buying food and water, I kept my visits to any public places to a minimum. I did, however, stick to my agenda with the hikes I set out for my vacation. Anything to avoid suspicion. As day ten approached I became anxious. My worry and tenseness, in turn, affected the dragon baby and it would bury its head into the crook of my neck. It comforted us both. Our last night in the forest, I tried hard to relay what would happen the next day to my companion. I only hoped the creature would understand.
I woke early and lay still for several minutes breathing in the forest aroma, listening to the birdsong and taking in my last moments of nature. I turned expecting to find the dragon curled up at my side, but it was not there. Sitting up and scanned the tent’s interior. No dragon! Rushing outside I surveyed the campsite, the riverbank, the rocky outcrop. No dragon. I called out “Come on then. Where are you?” Looking all around me, my panic increasing, I was frightened something had taken the baby during the night. Scenarios of the dragon going for a drink and a wild animal grabbing it flooded my mind. Running this way and that, my heart pounding, I began to cry. I searched the tent, the campsite, and surrounding area, again and again. There was no sign of the dragon. Defeated I sat down, with my head in my hands.
A sharp crack of a branch breaking, had my head swing around. I jumped up in surprise to be faced with the dragon. But not a small, compact dragon baby but a large, six-foot-tall dragon with blazing golden eyes. It looked straight at me. For the first time since finding the egg, I was afraid. I backed away, hands held out in front of me, which on second thought was ridiculous. A fire breathing dragon could reduce me to a pile of ash.
The dragon stepped closer, I stepped back, trembling in fear. It made a huffing sound and lowered and tilted its head, just like it used to. A feeling of calm washed over me. A voice inside my head told me I was not in danger. My companion would protect me. With a shaking hand, I reached out. The creature advanced to place its head beside me on the ground. It may have grown larger, but its dependency on me was evident. As we stood there together, I realized all my planning to get the baby dragon to my home was now irrelevant. There was no way I could hide this beast, even under the cover of darkness, there would be possible sightings. What was I going to do now!
A telepathic message popped into my head. ‘I am safe within the forest, do not fret. You have guarded me at my most venerable. I am grateful. You have shown me trails to avoid, places to hide and food to eat. You are free of your responsibility to me from this moment onward.’ I shook my head. I was attached to this being, loved it. I was more aware of the dangers of humans. A sighting would prompt a massive search with people, dogs and helicopters. I ‘voiced’ these thoughts in my mind, knowing the dragon could ‘hear’ them. The answer came after a pause. ‘I cannot ask you to give up your life to protect me.’ I shook my head refusing to acknowledge the message. “I can’t just leave you. I have to find a safe place for you to live.”
The dragon eyes focused on mine. ‘You will be missed. You must return home. These forests are large enough for me to hide, to live without detection. Maybe, if you wish, you could visit?’ I sat down feeling frustrated, angry and confused. “How would I ever find you? There are thousands of acres of forest, mountains, foothills, and lakes. It would be impossible. There must be something I can do?” Crouching down on its hide legs the dragon, shook its head. ‘I know your scent and can trace you over a thousand miles, I would find you, no matter where you were. It is as it should be. You have afforded me your friendship and I will forever be in your debt. Go home. Only return when it is possible. I will be safe here.’
I left a while later, despondent but resolved. I would return as many times I could. I would do as I was advised by this mythical creature – its very existence seemingly impossible to the entire human population. I was the only one, a special being myself. A secret I would keep forever.
I would live to know what you think of this story. Please leave a comment below.