Content Warning: Child peril.
Feral had been watching the little girl intently as the older boy led her into the woods toward the place of scattered bones. Once he had abandoned her near the dragon’s lair, he had been easy enough to dispatch, a satisfying snack in the deep shadows of the afternoon light. Feral would not tolerate those who drew near to his sanctuary. He knew the fear of strangers.
But the little girl intrigued him. The boy had known where he was leading her, but she was trusting & blissfully unaware. She could barely stand on her two stubby little feet & the way she wobbled as she tried to keep up with the older boy had been both amusing & endearing. As the boy left her there to play among the bones & toadstools, he promised that he was only going off to hunt up some truffles & would return soon.
But he didn’t go off hunting. As soon as he was out of sight, he hid behind some bushes right above Feral’s lair, waiting for the dragon to take her.
Feral experienced a certain fiendish delight in watching the boy watching for him. It would be worth the wait to see the look in the boy’s eyes as he understood what he had intended for her would be happening to him. Still, he couldn’t wait forever. Feral inched closer, lowering his snout just behind the boy’s head so that he could feel & smell his warm, sulfurous breath.
There had been no sound other than the quick slurp of Feral’s tongue as he scooped the boy into his mouth. He had seen the hair on the back of the boy’s neck stand up & the wide look in his eyes as he began to turn his head. That was enough. He didn’t need to hear him scream. Actually, he didn’t want to hear him scream. He didn’t want to disturb the little girl, though he had no idea why.
That didn’t mean he was through with the boy. Feral could have swallowed him whole & enjoyed the sensations of his dying struggles in his stomach. That was always good for the digestion. But the taste of those final wrestlings in his mouth were beyond exquisite & he usually tried to savor them for as long as he could. The boy had no weapons or armor, which was unfortunate. as metal was especially stimulating to the dragon’s taste buds. Even so, he fought hard for several minutes before finally succumbing.
After the last spasm had quit the boy’s body, Feral leaned over the mouth of his lair & dropped the body in, careful to make sure the little girl did not see him. Fresh was good for hunger. Fermented was better for taste. Feral wasn’t hungry at the time & he knew that after a few days the boy’s bouquet would be something else.
The body made a soft thump as it landed in the aging pile of Feral’s other recent kills, but the little girl did not notice. She was engrossed with picking up & examining bones & attempting to put them in her mouth. She did the same with the mushrooms, none of which were poisonous since Feral tended to lap those right up. They weren’t toxic to him, but if he got enough of them, they could be intoxicating.
He observed her like this for some time, torn between adding her to his pile & simply letting her be. She wouldn’t add much to his stores. And there was something about her, something familiar, like a distant memory long forgotten. When she stumbled & bumped her knee, he felt an unfamiliar urge, as though he wanted to reach out & catch her. When she plopped down & began to cry, he desperately wanted to find some way to comfort her.
She cried for a long time. Then she began to bawl, as though believing if she could only cry more loudly the boy would hear & return to her. When that didn’t happen, her sobs slowly quieted until they were little more than a whimper.
Then she stopped. She looked down through her tears to something on the ground just on the other side of her leg. Feral tried to find an angle where he could see what it was but couldn’t without risking exposure.
Until she bent her knee upward. There on the ground, emerging from behind her leg, was a common slug. She seemed fascinated with its undulating slithers & slimy trail. When it encountered an obstacle, she removed it. When it climbed a toadstool & began to feast, she watched it for a while, then began gathering more & setting them all around as though preparing a feast for it. She nibbled on a few of them herself as she continued to observe & commune with her tiny friend.
As the sun slid down through the sky beyond the distant peaks, she began to shiver & whimper again. She laid herself down in the dust among the scattered bones & fungi, feebly calling out a single name over & over again. “Petie. Petie. Petie, where are you? Where ya go?”
She stuck her thumb in her mouth & sucked. Her eyelids drooped as she quieted & fell asleep. When Feral was sure she was off in her twilight dreamland, he emerged from behind the trees & curled himself around her to keep her warm & protected. As he lay there, he listened to her breathing & felt her heartbeat, both offering him a sense of comfort & satisfaction as foreign to him as the urges he had felt earlier.
In the middle of the night, he heard other voices far away, down the mountain & deep in the forest, calling out a single name. He was sure it was not hers. It was too similar to the name she had called out earlier. “Peter! Peter! Peter!”
They would not find him. They would not come near the place of scattered bones. They would not dare approach the dragon’s lair, not in a moonless night so black & dark as this.
But why would they search only for one & not the other? Feral pondered this all the while he could hear them. Then he, too, drifted off to sleep.
A dragon’s dreams are not like those of the folk who live in the towns below. They are far more elemental, filled with mists & vapors, shadows & light, shapes & colors morphing into & through one another. They are insubstantial, taking more the form of thoughts, ideas, wonders, magic & truth than of any of the mundanities or mendacities which so abound in the wakening world. And they are sound, incorporating the slightest noises from the outside world into a marvelous symphony far beyond the comprehension of any human being. The musical score of a dragon’s dreams communicate everything he or she needs to know about their surroundings, offering the sweetest of slumbers, confidant that should any danger approach, they will immediately awaken with the orchestra’s sound of alarm.
Which is why Feral’s eyes flew wide open, seemingly just minutes after he had closed them. The toddler he was sheltering had begun to cry uncontrollably. The distinct smell of both urine & fresh dung filled the air & he could see that the cloth with which her crotch & waist had been swaddled now hung heavily between her legs, fully laden with a blend of liquid yellow & light, mushy brown.
Feral had never dealt with a toddler who was not yet potty trained. In truth, he had never dealt with a toddler for any reason before this, other than to observe them in the few towns at the foot of the mountain. He had witnessed both parents & siblings taking care of their young when they were in such a state. He knew they had to be stripped, cleaned & re-swaddled but he had few ideas how he was supposed to accomplish it.
He hooked & pulled at the soggy cloth with his teeth & talons, but it was no mean feat to get it removed from her bottom. Something about the mess seemed to cause the fabric to cling to itself even more fiercely than he imagined possible. By the time her diaper was off & tossed aside (it seemed hopeless for Feral to attempt to clean & dry it, much less get it reattached), the little girl was covered from head to toe in her own pee & excrement.
That part, however, did not pose a problem. Feral flicked his tongue gently across her entire body until her skin was as pink as that of a fairy princess. This caused her to giggle & laugh, which Feral found completely infectious.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a dragon’s mirth before, but it’s something like a cross between an elongated burp & the twinkling babble of a mountain stream. When she heard him laugh, she tried to imitate the sound, which in turn caused both of them to laugh all the more.
This went on for some time, long enough for the first signs of dawn to appear in the eastern sky. Then she became quiet, thoughtful & curious. She began to explore the dragon’s snout, reaching between his lips to find his teeth & tongue, exploring the space beneath his belly, climbing on his tail & reaching for the row of scales running the full length of his back. Feral quietly obliged & watched her as she inspected him.
Then she returned to his head which he lowered to her. She pulled with her hands on each of his nostrils every which way & even tried sticking her head into one of them so she could see further inside. She almost fit, which caused Feral to flinch & nearly sneeze!
Finally, she stepped back & looked him straight in his eyes. Feral thought during those few moments that her eyes were both fierce & resolute, but also just about the sweetest thing he had ever seen. At last, she took his snout in her hands, closed her eyes, leaned in & gave him the softest of kisses. Then she simply wrapped her arms around him & held him with her cheek pressed against his.
Feral had never felt such wetness in his eyes. It made it hard to see. He felt as though he should somehow brush them away, but he didn’t want to risk breaking the enchantment of this moment, so he remained still, pressed his eyelids closed, & let them flow.
Suddenly, she let go & began looking all around. “Petie! Petie! Where ya go?”
This was not good. What would happen if she stumbled upon his lifeless body just inside Feral’s lair? She was looking all around, behind every tree & bush, even under the mushrooms & bones.
Feral slipped over in front of the cave’s entrance, all the time watching as she searched. As she drew close, he moved to block her path. She tried several times to go around him but each time he prevented her. When it became clear he was not going to cooperate, she took a step back, looked him square in the eyes & said, “Move!”
He wasn’t sure why he did it, but he stepped out of her way.
She waddled up to the cave’s entrance & slipped inside—literally! She sat down on her bare behind & slid down into the mouth of the lair until she found herself on the edge of Feral’s fermenting stores, right next to Peter’s lifeless body.
Feral watched as she nudged & pushed him, crying, “Petie, wake up! Wake up, Petie!” Feral remained motionless, barely daring to breathe, his heart feeling as though it was about to strangle him. She lifted & dropped his arms, squeezed & pinched his cheeks & vainly searched for any sign of life.
Then she stood up, stepped back & said, “Petie, get up!”
And he did.
About the Creator
Retired Ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church having served for a total of 30 years in Missouri, South Dakota & Kansas.
Born in Watertown, SD on 9/26/1959. Married to Sandra Jellison-Knock on 1/24/1986. One son, Keenan, deceased.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!