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Silenced

by Mister Void 7 months ago in Fantasy · updated 6 months ago
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There weren't always dragons in the Valley. I miss those days. Before dragons.

Silenced
Photo by Ross Stone on Unsplash

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. Once, in what feels like ancient history, there weren't any dragons at all! Oh, how I miss those days. Before dragons.

Life in Las Vegas was sweet, even up until the end. But I just had to go and take that vaccine, didn't I? And now look at me! I'm stuck here in a dragon's den, kept as a pet, or, as they say, "assistant," and the only time I ever get to see any other humans is on walks, video calls, or when we leave town, which is rare these days. I have zero human friends in Death Valley and can't leave the city without a dragon escort, because that makes sense! It's absurd! Totally not fair.

The weather here sucks. There's a reason it's called, "Death Valley," or did no one tell them that? Why can't we live in Los Angeles? I'll even settle for Florida, but "that's not where the money's at," blah, blah. What do they know? They didn't get vaccinated because they didn't trust the science, and they turned into dragons as a result, just like everyone else who lost faith in humanity. One by one, they all turned into dragons. And now, there are literal lizard people in the White House.

Just another Tuesday!

Why me?

"Where's your human? The one with the really small tits?"

...Excuse me?

The dragon that adopted me, Richard, was in a video call with one of the neighbor dragons. Richard was just as taken aback by the comment as I was. However, Richard's neighbor was right. Rude, as usual, but right. I am small for a 23-year-old human woman, and I do usually sit in front of the camera when we do video calls. I just get so excited because there's always a chance to see humans on the other end. But today, I'm just not into it. I'm in a mood, if you can't tell.

Richard heard me sigh.

"You need to apologize to my human."

"What's the big deal? I was just concerned."

"About her tits?"

"No! It's just... I didn't see her, and I usually see her! And about her physique... I'm just used to seeing humans built differently. That's all. I really didn't mean anything by it. I'm sorry. It just totally came out all wrong. I'm such a stupid dragon!"

"Don't tell me you're sorry. Tell Roxie!"

My name's Michelle.

"Roxie, you there? It's Ralph. I'm sorry for describing you by your physical attributes. I'll do better from now on, I promise."

Richard heard me sigh again.

"She says you're forgiven."

That's not what I said. I said this is ridiculous. If only I could physically say those words, my life would be... less miserable. It's a pity I can't talk. None of us can. A side effect of taking the vaccine. I'd take it again, if I had a do-over. The side effects are a small price to pay. And not having to talk to anyone ever again is an absolute win in my book. And I love my body the way it is, thank you. My skin is so smooth. Smoother than any dragon skin, by far. I would never willingly get infected just to become a dragon. Why would I want to grow scales and breathe fire? We have lighters! There's just no reason for it. And yet, dragons outnumber humans a thousand to one. It makes no sense to me. Out of all the mutagens that humanity could have destroyed itself with, why did it have to be dragons? Are dragons really, truly, cooler than gryphons? I think not. It should be gryphons in the Valley. At least then I'd have a fluffy pillow to sleep on at night. Richard's tail has spikes. And his scales are like sandpaper. To be honest, I can't wait for his wife to get home. She's a much better snuggler.

Richard heard me sigh again.

"You okay?"

He ended the call and tapped my leg with his tail.

I nodded. Richard was pretty cool. Anything but Ralph.

"You miss Audrey?"

How did he know I was thinking about her? Was I playing with my hair again?

"Want walkies?"

I sat up. I am always down for walks, and I never have to wear a leash as long as I have an escort. It's hot out, sure, but I'm used to it by now. I live with dragons, after all. And the Sun was going down. Anyone from around here will tell you, it's the nicest time to go out. Well, the sane ones, anyway. Some of the neighbor dragons prefer the baking heat of mid-day in the desert scape. They say it makes their fire stronger. Again, lighters.

I found myself outside. I remember going out for walks before dragons. I would shut the door behind me, step on the warm grass, make my way to the quiet road, and frolic through the flowers for hours. I'd see and smell so many of them. All of them! I'd do it every day, and I miss it. Now, we have dragons, and communities of dragons, and we don't need roads. and we burn all the flowers, if not on purpose, then by accident. And we were in Death Valley, where there was the occasional cactus, and lizard, and snake, but no more sheep, because dragons. Coyotes and mountain lions were also pretty rare out here. Birds were still a thing, but most of them, the smart ones, stayed far, far away from dragon communities. Birds were very much not fireproof, and all it would take is one little sneeze.

The cactus flowers made it worth my time to leave the house. They had the prettiest smell at sunset, and it reminded me of home.

Home. Las Vegas, Nevada, 2066, right before the pandemic. It was one right after the other, these pandemics, up until the very end, D66, which affected everyone on Earth. I still don't understand it. Out of nowhere, people just... changed. We still don't have a cure for dracomorphism, even though we were promised it. Those who underwent a full vaccination had immunity to all forms of the virus, or so we've been told, but those who have already dragonshifted would never look human again, so the vaccine was useless. The irony is, those of us who took the vaccine early enough were the ones who suffered the most from D66. We can't talk. It's not for lack of trying, or fear of dragons. We physically can't communicate. Every time I try to talk, or write, or even read, it just doesn't come out of my head. It's some crazy new form of brain damage called Hsu's aphasia, which affects everyone who vaccinates against the D66 mutavirus. You know times are tough when you live in a world that willingly gives itself brain damage as a side effect just to not turn into a dragon. Those were our choices in 2066. Become dragon, or brain damage. Now that I say it like that, it makes more sense why dragons outnumber us a thousand to one.

But you don't understand!

Hold on a moment. This is my favorite cactus. Opuntia basilaris. I just need a moment. Perhaps more. More would be nice. This is so nice.

"That's your favorite one."

Yes! He knows me so well. As he should! We've been family for 5 years.

Just then, I heard one of the neighbors yelling at someone.

"If you're late again, I'll end you, Kevin! And the President's a republican, so I'll get away with it!"

I turned my attention away from the cactus. Richard tried not to look.

The neighbor dragon was outside, and his daughter just got home, late, again, because the boyfriend, Kevin, has no respect for his elders, apparently.

"Dad, it's fine! Kevin, just go. He's cranky."

"This is NOT cranky. You two have been dating for three years. He knows dinner is at 5:30, and I'm military, so that means 5 o'clock! Seventeen hundred hours, Sasha!"

"Dad!!"

"I'm sorry, Mister Davis. It won't happen again."

"Do better next time, Kevin. Sasha, go in the house!"

It was starting to smell less like Opuntia basilaris and more like dracomorphism. What a buzzkill.

It was getting dark. If I had to guess, Audrey, Joseph and Chloe were just getting home right about now. They would be waiting for us. We'd better not take too long. Oh, but there's so much more I want to see.

[Meanwhile, at Richard's house, as narrated by Chloe,]

"No, you were fighting! I saw it," I argued with my brother. He was a year older than me, but I still know what I saw. I'm not an idiot! They were at school in between classes and another dragon shoved Joseph and Joseph fell down and lost his temper really bad. He got back up and they both started fighting. The school nurse said the other dragon's wing might be broken and the dean of the school said we were lucky that none of us were old enough to breathe fire yet or the whole school could have burned down.

"Joseph, go to your room!" Mom demanded. I'd never seen my mother so mad before. I followed Joseph to his room, but he slammed the door in my face and locked it. I thought about saying something, maybe his name, really loud, so Mom would come and make him open the door, but I just didn't say anything for some reason. I guess I didn't want to be in the crossfire when Mom came running.

Then I heard it.

"CHLOE!!"

It was Mom. I turned to see her running directly at me with fear in her eyes. She immediately grabbed me and screamed, "WHERE'S JOSEPH?!" She banged on the door. "JOSEPH!!" She frantically jiggled the handle. It was locked. She banged harder.

"JOSEPH!!"

She gave up and ran me through the kitchen. Everything was on fire. I can't believe I didn't notice it sooner. I started choking on the smoke. The smoke detector began to wail. We made it out the front of the house.

"Chloe, where's your brother?"

"In his room, Mom! He locked the door."

"CHLOE, STAY RIGHT HERE!"

She turned and ran back in the house.

"JOSEPH!! JOSEPH!!!"

I could hear her screaming. I'd never been this scared before. Plumes of smoke bellowed out of the house from every angle.

"MOM!" I called out.

No answer.

[Back on their walk, oblivious to it all,]

Richard's phone rings. He answers it. It's the police. I listen in.

"Sir, this is the Death Valley police. Is this Richard Morris-Hunt? Sir, we've received reports of a structure fire at your address. Are you okay?"

Richard panicked, grabbed my wrist, and flew us home. I've never flown so fast in my life, and I've been on airplanes.

As we approached, first responders were already at our house. The house was fully ablaze and starting to cave in on itself.

We arrived and were immediately greeted with a first responder, who had Chloe with him.

Richard panicked and knelt down to address Chloe directly. "Where's your mom? Where's Joseph?"

"Joseph's in his room because he got in trouble. But, Mom's getting him out! She got me out! She'll get him out!! MOM!!"

"Dad??" A voice made itself known from behind the burning house. It was Joseph. He was with a firefighter. He was okay. Audrey was still missing.

"Son, where were you? Where's Mom? What happened?"

Joseph started crying. "I don't know, Dad! She sent me to my room, but I was mad, so I snuck out. You told me if I ever got mad, go to the back yard and cool off, so that's what I did!"

"WE'VE GOT A BODY!"

Richard's heart dropped. He saw everything, and quickly hugged his children against his chest so they couldn't look. He burst into tears above them, crying uncontrollably.

"I'm sorry, Daddy..."

Richard cradled Joseph's head closely.

"Mister Morris-Hunt? We've got you a hotel ready. We can do the report in the morning, okay?"

One of the first responders handed Richard a card.

Richard's phone rang again. It was Missus Weber, Audrey's mother.

"Richard?! Where's Audrey?! Where's my baby girl?! The police said there was a fire?? Are the kids safe?!"

Silence. Richard couldn't do this right now. It took every ounce of strength he had left to choke out only a few words, free of tears. "...Get over here, Marie."

"I'm in Sacramento. I'll be there in two hours."

He hung up the phone.

Later, at the hotel, Richard sobbed, tucking Joseph and Chloe into bed. I needed to find my own coping mechanism, so I turned on the TV. The news was on.

"If this bill is passed, it will be illegal to not take the pill."

"Now, is that just in Nevada, or is that the entire America?"

"America, Steve."

"Wow."

"Yes! If this bill is passed, you can go to prison with a felony charge simply by not taking your pill."

"And that's the, uh, fire pill, right?"

"That's right, Steve. The one that stops your fire breathing."

"For like a week, right?"

"Yes. There's talk of doing a monthly injection, or implant, but right now, it's just a couple of companies competing against each other with their versions of the pill, and that's a once per week routine."

"What's it called, again? Frahraloft, and, uh..."

"Ixenex."

"So, you're saying, if this bill passes, the entire country will have to take Frahraloft or Ixenex once per week, indefinitely?"

"That's correct, Steve."

Steve whistled in surprise. "That's, uh... That's a tall order, Chuck."

"YES! YES IT IS!"

"I mean, we have Second Amendment rights."

"YES, WE DO!"

"But there's got to be a good reason?"

"According to the United States Fire Administration, there are 36 thousand daily reports of dragon-related structure fires nationwide. Approximately 36 thousand new daily reports, they said. They were very specific about that number: 36,000 dragon-related structure fires per day."

"That's got to be more than guns, right?"

"WAY more than guns!"

"Well, what's guns?"

"American Public Health Association says there are 420 unique cases of gun violence per day. That's up from last year, which was 406."

"Four twenty?!"

"That's... what it says!"

"They've got to be messing with the numbers."

"Could be! But it's confirmed by several different organizations, so it's probably accurate."

"The world's ending, Chuck."

"Yes it is, Steve."

"We're dragons, Chuck!"

"Indeed, we are, Steve. But that's all the time we have for today, everyone! I'm Chuck Swanson..."

"And I'm Steve Nice."

"And you're watching... D'News."

I changed the channel. More news.

"Today, protests outside the White House as people, and their humans, gather in an effort to get the President to veto the fire bill. There are about 90,000 dragons out here on the front lawn of the White House tonight, and tensions... are high."

That was incredibly exhausting. I can barely hold my eyes open.

"Come on, Sis!"

What?

"Sis, let's go!"

What's going on? Scott? Scotty??

"Come on, Sis!"

I felt his hand on my wrist. I haven't felt his touch in so long, it made me tremble. My real, blood brother. Oh, how I miss him. Scotty...

Scotty had on a costume. We were trick-or-treating. It was so nice out. The Moon was so big! We had so much candy! Oh, what was he wearing? I forget. It wasn't a mummy. Was it a dragon? No. Of course, not. Ah, yes. A cowboy costume! Complete with blue jeans, plaid vest, brown hat, and incredibly sharp-looking black snakeskin boots. He was so cute! I remember now. And I went as... a cat. Yes, a black, undead cat. I remember! Mom said I looked really scary! Clearly on my tenth life!

This was Mister Harrison's house up ahead. His wife gave me a band-aid once when I fell down near her driveway. I came here last year for trick-or-treating, too. I remember how good the chocolate was. I'm so glad we're going back, together.

Scotty, thank you.

"Trick-or-treat!!"

"Oh, look at you guys! How amazing! Don't eat it all right now, okay? Be safe!"

At least, that's what he said last year.

Scotty rang the doorbell. No answer. "Trick-or-treat!" we said. No answer, still. We waited.

The door handle shifted and crept open. It was loud, and very creepy, nothing like last year. A figure stood just on the other side of the door. I could hear him breathing, but it was dark, and I couldn't see him. Was he trying to scare us? I don't remember Mister Harrison scaring trick-or-treaters last year. What's going on?

"Trick-or-treat!!"

Heavy breathing. This was getting really scary. I saw Scotty reach his hand inside the house, through the barely-opened door. I absolutely froze. What if he got pulled in? What if it's not Mister Harrison?

I saw smoke pouring out of the doorway, lapping at Scott's arm. He and I made eye contact. I couldn't explain the expression on his face. He wanted to go inside the house.

But it's not our house. I looked at the door again, then took two steps back, examined the entranceway, and the front of the house. It wasn't Mister Harrison's house, anymore, either. It was Richard's house, and it was on fire. I refocused my attention to Scotty. He disappeared inside the house. I couldn't see him anymore, just smoke. I wanted to cry out for him, but I couldn't speak. Scotty, don't go in there. Scotty, come back!

"Roxie?"

Scotty, is that you? Why are you calling me Roxie? How do you even know about that name? You died before I was ever adopted. You knew me as Michelle. I know this! Scotty, you're breaking my heart! Please don't call me Roxie. I can't do this, Scotty...

"Roxie? Let me in!"

Please, stop! It's Michelle! You know it's Michelle!

"ROXIE!!"

Stop it!!

BANG, BANG, BANG!

STOP!!

BANG, BANG, BANG!

BANG, BANG, BANG!

"ROXIE, OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!"

I jolted awake. What a nightmare! How long had I been asleep?

BANG, BANG, BANG!

"ROXIE!!"

My eyes darted around the hotel room. Someone was definitely banging on the door, and Richard and the kids were still passed out. I got up and answered the door. It was Missus Weber. She forced her way past me the moment I got the door unlocked. It was as if I didn't exist to this person, but at the same time, she remembered my nickname.

"RICHARD! RICHARD, I'M HERE!" Missus Weber already found her way to Richard's bedside and was actively shaking him.

"Huh??" Richard opened his eyes and looked up at Missus Weber.

"Richard, I need you to tell me what happened."

The gravity of the situation finally began to weigh on Richard. He was absolutely cornered by a grieving mother.

"The house caught fire, Mum. Audrey died rescuing the kids..."

"No...." Missus Weber was heart-struck.

"I should have been there! It's my fault for not being there. I could have helped! We could have saved everyone, together..."

Richard's gaze met my own. For the first time in my life since I met him, I saw his confusion become hatred. His eyes remained locked with mine for what felt like an eternity, before he told Missus Weber, "I wasn't home."

I felt it. I felt the daggers. I felt the blame. The entire blame! Richard was saying this was my fault. If I didn't exist, there would have been no walk, and he'd have been there at the house the entire time to de-escalate things. No one would have died, if not for me. He knows he could have stopped the fire, if not for me. For my existence.

I felt incredibly unclean all of a sudden. Richard seemed to notice the change, as well, because he stopped looking at me.

Does he really think that? I thought he loved me like his own daughter. I thought that's what we agreed to when I left foster care. That he'd always love me, no matter what.

Relax, Michelle, you're just reading too much into this. He's grieving. It's just grief. It has nothing to do with you. Stop making this about you, Michelle. Or should I say, Roxie?

I slumped down in the corner, directly behind the door. All of a sudden, I was just hoping someone would slam the door wide open and crush me behind it, so I'd never bother anyone ever again.

Don't think like that. Just... Just process. Like Richard's doing. It's a tragedy. There's no undoing it. Just process. It's not you. It has nothing to do with you.

I'd kill for a walk right now. Just, please, take me out of this situation.

The door crept open from the breeze, bumping into my hip. I'd forgotten to shut it earlier. Richard and Missus Weber were in deep discussion at this point, and things were getting very emotional, and, while I loved Audrey, too, they weren't making me feel very included in the grieving process. It was so depressing. Don't they know we're all still human? Very well, then, if I'm not wanted here, I'll disappear.

I knew better than to go outside without a dragon, especially in a strange place like a hotel I've never been to, before, but I didn't care. I went outside anyway, and they didn't even notice.

I didn't make it very far, though.

"Well, well, well, what is this? A vaccinated human??" Another dragon made himself known right outside the hotel. I'd walked to the end of the lot already, and he made sure to stand directly between me and the hotel so I couldn't go back inside.

What's that smell? Alcohol? Oh, a lot of alcohol... It's okay. Ignore it. Go around.

He didn't let me.

"You think you're better than me, smoothskin?" Ugh! The alcohol smell was so bad!

He shoved me with both hands, and I fell over. He's stronger than me. Not good! Why did I ever leave the hotel room?

Oh, I remember now. Dragons!

I quickly stood back up and stepped farther away from the hotel. I was willing to run through the woods if it meant getting away from this lunatic. It wouldn't be the first time I ran through the woods.

Haha. Woodn't. Good one, Michelle.

"I'm talking to you, human!"

He grabbed my wrist and lifted me almost completely off the ground. There was so much alcohol on his breath it made me dizzy. Am I going to die here? Is it too late to run? His grip is... so tight...

Richard...

...Scotty.....

CRACK!

Just when I thought I was about to be reunited with Scott, a second dragon struck the first over the head with a baseball bat. I was immediately let go and wasted no time running back to the hotel.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!!

I heard screams. I couldn't look back. This was none of my business. If I lingered, I'd surely die. I'm probably already dead. This is probably purgatory. Once they're done, I'm next, I know it!

I slammed the door behind me. My family looked at me. Chloe and Joseph were also awake now. Everyone just stared at me in silence. I feigned ignorance and kept myself pressed against the door. I made sure it was locked.

Shadows passed in front of the window and lingered just outside. Whoever it was was about to make my family's life even worse, and it's all my fault.

What have I done?

BANG, BANG, BANG!

Richard stood up and approached the door. I need to tell him! Our collective lives depend on him not opening the door. How can I tell him? How can I make him understand?

I stood up and hugged him, right there in the middle of the room. He tried to push his way past me, but I held my ground and hugged him harder, squeezing as if my life depended on it, because it did.

We shared a moment of silence, and just sort of looked at each other. He knew I wasn't letting go, and he wanted to know why just as much as I wanted to tell him.

BANG, BANG, BANG!

"Who is it?"

No answer. Please don't open the door, Mrs. Weber.

She opened the door. Richard felt my fingernails dig into his scales.

"Sorry to bother you, ma'am. My friend here owes your friend an apology."

My heart was racing. Was the other dragon still alive? So, I didn't just witness a murder?

"You're friends with that human girl, right?"

"Yes, she's my daughter."

My heart sunk.

"My friend here had too much to drink and he put his hands on her, but we're here to apologize." He elbowed his 'friend,' who now had a black eye.

"So sorry! You ladies have a wonderful night!" For someone who just got smacked in the face, the dragon's speech appeared unaffected.

"Let's get you some ice on that..." They walked away.

Mrs. Weber shut the door, locked it, and turned directly toward me. I couldn't stop looking at her. She's never called me that before. And today, of all days? I slumped against Richard and started to cry. It was my turn to cry.

BANG, BANG, BANG!

It was short-lived.

"Wow, someone's popular," Mrs. Weber turned back to the door and opened it.

"...Michelle?"

!!!

There was a third dragon outside, now, one that I had never seen before in my life, and this one approached our hotel room alone. Was he friends with the others? What a weird relationship these dragons have. I know I heard him say Michelle.

"I'm sorry, dear, but my name's Marie. Marie Weber. There's no one here named Michelle."

I did hear him say Michelle! The dragon looked past Mrs. Weber and stared directly at me. Our eyes were very eager to meet. I didn't recognize the rest of him, but I recognized those eyes. Despite the draconic features, something about those eyes was extremely obvious to me. Those were Scott's eyes.

Scott??? You're alive??? I wanted desperately to say those words. Of course, because of my disability, I could not. If the rest of my body could talk, it would scream those words, right here and now.

I tried desperately to give Scott a sign, but my body was still shocked, and even it was having trouble communicating. I peeled myself off of Richard. A part of me wanted to tell Richard everything was okay, just don't interfere, and let this play out, but there was a larger part of me that wouldn't allow me to become distracted from Scott. I just couldn't communicate with Richard right now, even though I know he needed it. Right now, Richard didn't exist, and Mrs. Weber was someone who would simply be trampled in 3... 2... 1...

I shoved her out of the way and found myself immediately clinging to Scott. He buckled under my impact, even though I was so much smaller than him. What a coincidence, seeing him alive, much less here!

"It is you! ...Sis..." He hugged me so hard. The both of us had never been so happy. I hadn't seen Scott since we were separated, 5 years ago. I was told he was dead, like my parents. It hurt so much for so long. It still hurts.

"Scott, we need to go," the dragon from earlier shouted back. How dare he scare me like that and then try to ruin this moment, the single most important moment of my life! I won't have it! Scott's scales shivered under the force of my nails digging in. I wasn't letting go of this man.

"Sis, I have to go, but keep this and I'll come for you, I promise," Scott confessed, placing a silver chain in my hand. It had a heart-shaped locket on the end. I stared down at it, my fingers weakly grazing its surface. It popped open at even the slightest disturbance, and inside was a family photo of us from 10 years ago, way before D66.

We looked so happy. I almost forgot that feeling.

Thank you, Scott.

Fantasy

About the author

Mister Void

I like gryphons :)

Previous project: Have a look at my original animation, based on my Vocal story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSUAtVCQaTg

Current project: Another OA based on this: https://vocal.media/fiction/the-silver-elite-v4g8gx0urz

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