There weren’t always Dragons in the Valley—or at least that’s how it was. Jonah Halderson figured this out the hard way. Some would even say he deserved it—going into the forbidden woods asking for trouble to find him.
Others would say he had saved the day, opening a new world and protecting his city in the process—but no one had seen Jonah Halderson since he stepped into the woods two weeks before, no one knew where he had gone, all they knew is the Dragons were disappearing left and right and no one knew why.
For thousands of years the Valley had been off limits—bound by an unspoken rule, a promise made between city rulers long ago. In fact, so much time had passed that no one could quite recall why the pact had been made in the first place— families once sworn to secrecy had died off decades before and people were starting to grow curious, wondering why they couldn’t go into the Valleys below.
This was especially the case for Jonah Halderson as you will soon discover. Indeed there was something about the Valley even the Dragons couldn’t destroy, but in the blink of an eye everything changed. There was a lure, an unmistakable curiosity that burrowed deep into the core of every teenager in town, an outlandish rite of passage to step foot in the Valley but no one had ever gone too much further for fear of what they might find.
It was enough to worry about what already lurked below with the things we could see. There were thousands of other winged and non-winged beasts that called the horseshoe shaped land home and for centuries the world beyond remained untouched, unseen and completely undocumented.
No one explored the worlds within the Valley Basin, at least no one had lived to talk about it. The Valley was a place where anything and everything was alive—from the shifting grounds to the climbing ways of those pesky scuttling vines; everything had a pulse.
Jonah Halderson didn’t care about what lived in the Valley. At seventeen he stood over six feet tall and was rather lanky with brown curly hair that rested on the rim of his glasses. He wore plain shirts with long-sleeved flannels, jeans and sneakers—an all-around average boy who wasn’t good at anything useful, believe you me. Instead, he always carried a backpack with him wherever he went; always prepared for the worst to happen—so when something did go bad it was no surprise that Jonah Halderson was involved.
Mind you, a lot could be said about Jonah Halderson but the truth of the matter was—not many people understood him, and to make things worse, two of his best friends had gone missing. Police assumed they had run away but Jonah knew better; he knew their disappearance had something to do with the Valley, the Dragons, and all the strange and mysterious things that started happening the second the mountains gave way.
At first the Dragons kept to themselves, pining after smaller creatures before growing bolder as the weeks passed into months. The real problems started when the rambling cliffs on the west side of the island started to break apart causing the mountains circling the Valley to open which allowed larger beasts to trickle in—and of course, no one knew what to think—after all, what harm could come from a few more creatures swarming the Valleys.
Besides, no one had ever ventured that far, no one knew what lived beyond the mountains. All the maps in the City stopped at the basin edge—lines erased and left empty as the mountains faded into an unknown abyss.
But Jonah—Jonah lived in the lands above the Valleys—in Ehmsbury—a bustling Cliff-side castle that stretched for miles along the mountains edge near Dimshire Passing in North Auchester. It was a much more boring place than the Valley where the only living creatures were regular folk like you and me. But today would change the rest of Jonah’s life. As he ran out the steps of his parent’s front door and made his way over to where he and his two friends—Liam Massey and Theo James—had built a small tree-house a handful of summers before, he couldn’t have known what life changing clues he would stumble upon inside.
On the way out of town—tattered missing posters for Massey and James plastered the lone street lamps, their faces prominently displayed in colored ink with blue and green ribbons wrapped around trees in large bows—an eerie reminder that the two boys were still gone—and little did anyone know by the end of the day, another person would be missing as well.
As it neared dark Jonah stopped short of the dead end dirt road, making sure no one was watching. He had made this familiar walk with his two friends, usually dragging along their bikes— but this time he didn’t want to leave behind any clues.
It was bad enough that he felt like the whole town was watching him, onto him—waiting for him to disappear. I mean—it was only a matter of time before people would start to blame him for his only friend’s disappearance and besides, the police weren’t the only ones who found it strange Jonah hadn’t been with them that fateful day but he hadn’t felt like going on an adventure that morning, who could blame him? How could he have known Liam and Theo would go missing?
He surely didn’t think they would leave him behind, and with their parents starting to ask questions, questions he didn’t have the answers to—it all became too much for him so he retreated—back to the only place he felt safe, the tree-house.
Law enforcement and the boys’ families hadn’t looked there, no one knew about it— Jonah hadn’t been to the spot since being questioned by cops so he wasn’t sure what he would find inside. He had waited long enough to not rouse attention but he couldn’t wait any longer. He pushed the dried palm fronds over and ducked under the small opening of a crudely constructed wooden door, scurrying up the splintered ramp and into what was left of an old hunting caddy.
The boys had done their best to cover it over the years—fallen trees and overgrown bushes blocked the bulk of the hunting post from sight—besides, no one used these woods for anything anymore. Especially not after rumors of man-eating wind-roots had started sprouting—no doubt having been blown in by the unguarded seas below.
Jonah had yet to be accosted by any such trouble; all he worried about was what would be in the Valley—in addition to the wind-roots, shriveled toads, flaring polkweeds and hollow ponds he had heard rumors of prickly lilacs and spinning daisy’s; swamps full of itchy-weeds and crawling sticks.
Oh—and you better watch out for any mocking plants or howling trees, and while we’re at it, let’s not forget about the—phantom flowers, wild tongues, and sneezing flutes; the whole lot, unsavory beasts. Funny names but dangerous still—and to make it worse, no one knew what any of these things did. No one knew if they even existed. It was all documented rather poorly in the town’s ONLY explorative history book— a favorite of the trio aptly titled “The Valley Voids: Lively Plants, Invisible Creatures and all the in-between” by H.R. Walker.
“I miss you guys,” Jonah said aloud as he stepped into the darkened tree-house. He knew his friends couldn’t hear him but it made him feel better nonetheless, made him feel less alone. He flicked on the lantern hanging from the beams overhead and looked around. The boys had always kept bags with food, clothes and survival tools—mostly ropes, knives, a compass, poncho, folding waders, lighters, and some other odds and ends; two bags were missing and from the look of things inside the tree-house, it soon became clear Liam and Theo had acquired a map, or at least, there was part of a well-worn piece of paper—dirt covered and smudged sitting under a book on a small makeshift coffee table in the center of the tree-house that looked like a map.
Jonah quickly pushed the book aside, staring at the tea-stain colored drawings, the bottom left had what he assumed to be a compass-key embossed in metallic blue ink. There were a bunch of symbols drawn on it and one of the boys had circled a few things with arrows. Jonah wondered if they were leaving him a clue.
Jagged blue lines indicated there must be a river of sorts that snaked its way around the trees, dropping off at the Valley edge; whereas a row of upside down V’s marked where mountains dotted the interior—barely visible above the fog-filled treetops. Jonah didn’t even know the Valley was deep enough for any hills or mountains; the dense undergrowth and trees must cover miles of uncharted land; Liam and Theo could be anywhere by now. Jonah decided it best that he rappel down at day break where most of the biting bugs would still be too groggy from their slumber to sink their teeth in him. From there he would take the path Liam and Theo had most likely taken—a direct path across the middle of the Valley towards the Mountain edge, the same place where the river ended.
Just as he was about to fold the map, he noticed another spot Liam had circled near a fork in the river where the mountains split. He couldn’t quite make out what it was, a square with a large “X” through it. Whatever it was nestled at the base of the mountains at the very dead center of the Valley basin— is this where Liam and Theo had gone? Jonah traced along the route from the dead-end woods where there were prominent red and orange squiggles, like wave-shaped birds—the Key at the bottom of the map let him know Theo had mapped where the last series of Dragons had been spotted.
This would come in handy; after all, Jonah had done his homework on the various Dragon species known to have invaded the Valley thus far—this was one topic Jonah had familiarized himself with. He knew their secrets; tracking each one as it broke through the barrier.
But this was difficult and deadly dangerous business. You see—Dragons mostly traveled at night, traveling in packs as they hunted the woods, following on the tail end of other unsuspecting creatures and there were dozens upon dozens of Dragons wandering the Mountain Valleys—from Arctic Spiked-Tail Dragons, Croatian Horn-Beards, and Ruby Ridge-Claws—all the way to the elusive Danish Curve-Backs. Jonah knew them all by sight and sound, some fluttered their wings madly while others stomped furiously and still-yet, all of them sent a chill down his spine, but Jonah couldn’t tell if it was from fear or fascination.
Whatever it was, Jonah was ready—the only problem seemed to be that something else was killing off the dragons, or at least, the Dragons were disappearing at an alarming rate, but no one had seen this curious creature—the very creature that had lured Liam and Theo to the woods in the first place, something bigger was out there, that he was certain.
Jonah strapped the large adjustable headband around his forehead, figuring the blinding light would come in handy if he came across any dragons still lingering in the morning mist. He wasn’t quite sure how dark the forest would be underneath the cover of all the swarming trees, besides, he didn’t know where the dragons slept, they could be anywhere, everywhere—and he wanted to be ready.
Jonah took one last look around the tree-house as he grabbed a second bag, checking to make sure the reflective tarps and extra fire-kits were there. He wasn’t taking any chances; Liam and Theo were only supposed to be gone for one day—and look at how long it had been. Of course—Jonah assumed they had gone too far to turn around before night fell but now, he wondered why they hadn’t come back in the days following. This was soon pushed out of his mind as he rounded the clearing, below the Valley was teeming with life, everything was moving—an ocean of greenery—as he watched the tops of trees sway and crash into each other like rogue waves his stomach sank.
He had never seen this much life in the Valley Basin; it was a sign. Maybe this was why none of the Police force had been too keen on investigating. As Jonah rappelled down, he watched as each drop of the rope seemed to make the trees hover ever higher above as they loomed large, larger than any tree he had ever seen.
His stomach continued to sink; there was no turning back now, he was miles below any civilization.
These sure weren’t regular trees—he thought to himself as the dust cleared around him and he finally touched his feet onto the beachy sand below. The woods stood like a wall in front of him going as far and wide as the eye could see—he looked back up towards where he had just rappelled—the rope disappeared from sight in the fog above. The trees were so big he hadn’t realized there was any ground— let alone a beach down in the Valley. He just always assumed it was trees, trees that curved up into the sides of the mountain.
Finding Liam and Theo would be much harder—he mused as turned on his headlamp and pulled out the map to get his bearings together before heading into the darkened woods—“Liam, Theo,” he whispered—“Hang on, I'm coming,”
And with that—he was gone.
About the Creator
Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.
& above all—thank you for your time