There weren’t always dragons in the valley. And no one was there to witness the birthing of the first malevolent monster when it arose from the depths of the fiery lake, emerging from the flames that danced demonically across the waves.
Speculating long afterwards, the valley people said the fire on the lake was likely caused by a strike from the surly skies overhead—a bolt of heat-lightning sent by angry gods to ignite the oily, gummy crust floating on the lake’s surface. But nobody ever knew for sure.
At the moment of combustion, the flames would have begun to spread slowly across the water, hungrily devouring the layers of filthy grunge, sending greasy black smoke into the sky to blend with the heavy overcast---surely an omen if anyone had been there to see it. The people figured the fire would have burned until it exhausted the oleaginous scum on the lake’s surface, the result of eons of seepage from tar sands far below.
Had anyone been there on that fateful day, the smell was the first thing they’d have noticed—an acrid, repellent odour, distinctly unpleasant, entirely hostile. In that sticky, humid atmosphere, it would have saturated the moist air, cloying and pervasive, unmistakably out of place in the forest setting.
Had someone been there that night, they’d have seen greedy tongues of flame, nearly invisible in the daytime—a greenish-blue inferno flecked with orange, leaping low on the water’s surface. The fire would have lent a Dante-esque glow to the darkness, roiling and surging atop the lake like the awakening beast it was.
The small kettle-lake at the bottom of the valley had been devoid of life for years. No fish swam in the depths of its square-kilometre bowl, their remains having long since mouldered on the bottom or rotted on shore. No ducks, or geese, or iconic loons splashed down on its surface during their migratory travels. No small animals came to drink from its water, or to hunt the frogs and crawfish that might have once inhabited the shoreline. The lake was dead beyond reclamation, a silent, toxic cesspool, the perfect breeding ground for the catastrophe it was spawning, a poisoned promise to the future.
In the hours that followed, the fiery beast would have reached the sloping terrain of the eastern shore, an expanse of granite covered in stiff lichen, furry moss, and low, prickly scrub. It would have devoured the dead leaves, twigs, and branches littering the rising slope, sere and brown in the summer heat. Pockets of smoke would have appeared near the bottom of the grade, and gradually moved upward, tracing the path of the smouldering monster in the cracks and fissures of the rock.
Eventually, the first small flames would have sprung to life—not explosively, not aggressively, but languidly, as if the oppressive heat of the day was more than they could tolerate. The abundance of rotting, dry vegetation on the ground would have allowed the flames to spread, moving in every direction from the centre, climbing the slope, consuming everything in their path.
On the flatter shoreline areas—gravel-covered, bare of vegetation, where no fire should have found purchase—the flames nevertheless would have spread haphazardly, as if drawing on some unseen source of fuel. Black tendrils of smoke would have traced their route from the lake’s edge toward the forest, their odour the same as that arising from the water-borne gunk.
Before further disaster struck, before the fire had a chance to spread uncontrollably, the rains would have come---perhaps one of those sudden, summer downpours appearing almost out of nowhere, lasting perhaps an hour, leaving behind an azure, cloudless sky and setting sun.
For a while, the raindrops on the surface of the lake would have evaporated as soon as they landed, replacing the smoke with mists of steam, scarcely different in appearance. But eventually, the rain’s sheer volume would have quenched the flames, already diminishing as a result of their relentless consumption of the oleaginous scum they’d been feeding on.
From the forest floor, rainwater rushing pell-mell down the slopes of granite to the lake would have drowned the smouldering beast before it could reach the treeline, leaving large swathes of black soot across the pink-hued rock. And the flames creeping across the gravel-laden flats would have been similarly quelled, with wispy threads of acrid smoke rising lazily from the tar-soaked ground, pale tendrils striving futilely against the rain.
Had anyone been there as the smoke and steam began to dissipate, they might have detected a roiling of the water far out on the cooling lake, might have noticed the ripples rolling in on shore, might have espied the monstrous shape, indistinct at first through the mist, seeming to float atop the surface.
Had someone been there, they would surely have quailed in fear at witnessing tongues of flame flaring from the mouth of the creature. They would have heard its guttural grunts across the water, would perhaps have knelt in silent prayer to the gods they worshipped. But there was no one on the shore to see the coming of the dragons, for the people had not yet come to the valley.
That first dragon---born of the fire and brimstone in the depths of the accursed lake in the deepest part of the otherwise-blessed valley---arrived in remote majesty, monarch of an empty kingdom, at once ferocious and unruffled in its solitude. But it wasted no time at all to call forth companions from the inferno at the bottom of the lake, and henceforth, there were always dragons in the valley.
Eons later, the first people to arrive undoubtedly rejoiced over their good fortune, at least until they became aware of the monsters who shared the valley. But by then, it was too late. The scaly, fork-tailed beasts had entered the sylvan valley first, and the terror was just beginning.
About the author
I'm a graduate of York University and the Ryerson School of Journalism.
In addition to having published seven novels and six collections of tales, I write regularly at---www.tallandtruetales.blog
I live with my wife in Florida and Ontario.