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The Dragon of Morning Star Lane

by Elevynn ThaMuse 4 months ago in Fantasy · updated 4 months ago
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Chapter One

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. But then again that was before Mariah Joto stumbled across her birthright, the gateway between the magic realm and Earth.

By June 7th, 2022, Mariah had spent the past 3 months being a resident that lived in a hidden hollow that was the starting tip of Morning Star Lane. Each morning before the Sun could rise too high in the sky, she’d put her feet to pavement and walk the 2-mile trek that saw the road empty out into Old Lexington Rd. The challenging high roads and depths of the Valley were just part of the mystique that made this walk so worthwhile for the 24-year-old.

Until today, Mariah had made the vigorous hike religiously for more than just the cardio it offered. The stunning scenery of the walk allowed her to feel immersed with all that nature had to offer which was more than her previous city living had ever given her.

The sweet serenade produced by a cornucopia of birds that called the roadway home was unlike any Mariah had ever experienced. American Goldfinches no bigger than the leaves they flew from darted in and out of flowered bushes in packs of six to ten. Their speed and grace looked so out of place they gave the illusion of being under water. A spray of yellow would become airborne for the briefest of moments before darting in the dense bush and disappearing again. Cardinals swooped in low over her head showing off their bright red underbellies before disappearing into the giant American Sycamores that lined the streets. Yulan magnolias and flowering cherry trees seemed to wave at her as she walked by all pining for the Sun’s attention or sheltering from the fierce wind that sometimes swept through.

The Valley possessed a large body of water named Spring Lake and two parallel spillway ponds that was home to a large population of slightly aggressive geese. The neighboring woods and dense foliage are home to several woodland creatures ranging from snakes to deer. The street was also favored by drivers of low to the ground sports cars that sped around the winding curves with reckless abandon. But to Mariah these were nothing more than minor inconveniences that paled in comparison to the visual reward. So, like a moth to the flame, she found herself drawn to the daily tradition.

But today she had no intention to finish her walk, the smallest of the spillway ponds her destination.

The trickle of water that passed under the road and fed the small pond was what brought her attention to the hidden spillway. Had it not been for the new notes of unique sound that added to the road’s sonata Mariah would’ve remained oblivious to its existence. Concealed entirely from motorists, it lay on the left side of the road overlayed by the dense foliage that surrounded the often-murky surface. On most days Mariah stopped just on the other side of the metal guard rail that functioned as a barrier between the road and a steep drop that led to the pond in question.

Its sister reservoir was much larger and just further up the road sectioned off by a line of well-groomed magnolias. Three times the size of the invisible pond, Mariah found herself puzzling over the real depth of the pond. On sunny and cloudy days, the trees above the pond cast strange shadows across the water's surface. Ripples played across the cloudy gray, brown water in a way that gave the impression of a submerged stone wall. In the center of the pond an impossible rectangular bank of mud ruined the illusion of a submerged wall. Still, Mariah could not help but glance at the hidden cove every time she passed by it. Always hoping the Sun or lack thereof would reveal something that would confirm her theory.

Time raced by as March melted into June with little to no change in the pond despite several heavy rains that nearly threatened to flood the lower parts of the area.

The events that started her last walk down to the pond started on June 1st Mariah sped by the silver of the safety rail. Skin glistening with sweat as her running app gave her the stats of her current run and lightly encouraged her to pick up the speed.

She had been tough on her body with her 25th birthday approaching, but she had goals to meet. So, she picked up her speed and flew by the spot she had studied so often with barely a glance in its direction. But one glance was all it took; she had seen it instantly and her feet had turned mid stride and planted her in front of the rail. Quick reflexes and a steady hand saved Mariah from toppling over the safety rail with the momentum of the stop.

“Whoa!” She exclaimed as her brain attempted to make sense of what her eyes were seeing.

The water had dropped half a foot to reveal that the island of a dirt that had been the bane of her imagination was no island, but the top of a stone roof. The archway barely visible revealed a dark entrance that was free of the water.

Mariah’s heart fluttered with curiosity that grew into frustration as she attempted to take pictures of the roof. Despite the numerous tactics used to get a great picture she could not seem to capture what her eyes saw. She gave up with a flabbergasted slew of profanities and cursed her uppity ways as she started back on the path of her run. She cursed her imagination with frustration when the Running App reminded her that she had stopped and added unnecessary time to her run.

She dismissed the thought, kicked up her speed and sprinted away from the water and its craftily deceptive mud bank. Refusing to think about how the water had dropped despite a flood, or how the images in her phone just looked like dirt and an exposed root.

June 2nd Mariah found her muscles too tight and sore to think about walking or running for that matter. Her muscles ached with loud screams of pain as if to say “What were you thinking? You pushed us too far!” She knew she’d run faster and harder than she had run in her life trying to put the pond out of her mind. But instead of admitting that the strange scene had spooked her she put on a brave face and claimed to be extra motivated.

She chose a day of pre birthday self-care instead promising herself she would return to the Valley again the next day. Mariah got her feet and nails done, received a massage and got her candy gotten pink curly tresses trimmed down to a cloud of afro around her caramel-colored round face. She took herself to dinner alone and ended her night spending time with her four older brothers playing Rock Band and drinking. In fact, she’d done just enough drinking that on June 3rd Mariah found herself desperately hungover. The kind of hangover that reminds you there is a thin line between death by dehydration and the last hangover you will ever have.

She spent much of the day calling Earl in that devil's porcelain throne of all things disgusting. Her head ached, her body sweat and stunk as it tried to force the damaging amount of alcohol out of her body. She prayed to her gods, to her ancestors, to the universe all around, the usual prayers of the desperate that often go unheard by the Divine or where would be the lesson? She regretted her over drinking and her cowardice, because when it came down to it, in the not so back of her head she knew she was stalling.

She was afraid of what was waiting for her down on the side of the road, behind the metal guard. Afraid to do what she had been doing every day for close to 90 days. What had compelled her to look the first time? Had it really been the sound of running water that had called to her?

Several times during her hang over she found herself getting ready to make the walk again despite feeling like crap. She’d lay in bed, see the pond and its impossible roof poking through the surface in her head. Her mind would wander and some how she’d become aware of her body working through the chores necessary to head out for her usual walk

“What in the hell am I doing?” She’d asked herself once after finding her weak frame swaying in the doorway fully dressed for a shamble outside.

The hangover, a bit too successful in detouring her from the pond and its island, kept her home through June 4th as well.

Throughout the day, she’d lay down and wake up standing outside, shoeless with her happy feet stomping along the grass to the road again. Despite her physical state, her restless feet ached to make the familiar walk again. The growing pressure to walk to the pond left her mind racing with worry as she wondered what was going on.

On June 5th, the rain clapped down from the sky with a violent show of thunder and lightning. Mariah watched from the window as the storm poured down in cold sheets. She flipped through her pictures of the pond hoping one would show the stone roof covered in dirt and grime with its rough support beams that were hidden below the murky water. But the pictures made Mariah feel insane showing only an exposed root bent halfway at what would have been the peak of the structure. No matter how she zoomed and examined, she could not get the dark root in front of the dirt “island” to be the stone structure she had seen.

She tossed her phone to the side, hopped on her gaming system, and ignored her very restless feet as much as she could.

June 6th Mariah woke up bright and early ready to get her walk out of the way. Tomorrow would be her birthday and she had to pretend she did not know her family was throwing a party. Which meant she needed to be out of the house.

She made her journey as she always did with her large walking stick, barely aware of how swiftly her feet carried her along. Before she knew it, she found herself standing in front of that same guard rail. Mouth ajar, jaw unhinged as her eyes bulged out comically at the status of the pond.

The water had since dropped another three feet exposing the entire stone roof and its elaborately carved stone structural sides. More than 3/4ths of the strange doorway remained submerged in the surrounding murky water. Branches that hung twenty feet above the water’s surface helped to create the deep dark shadow that obscured what lay just through the door.

The music of the birds had all but faded away and on the breeze, she could just make out the twang of a guitar. Even the fragrance of the air had changed, the scent of nature was buried under the heavy scent of warm cinnamon and vanilla. Mariah’s only saving grace, her feet remained planted as her brain tried to make sense of it all.

Once again, she attempted to take a photo of the hidden structure. Again, all that was visible was a muddy island with a branch in front that gave the illusion of a doorway. Even the water was higher in the picture hiding away the structure she could see with her bare eyes.

Mariah pushed down the scream building in her throat and took several steadying deep breaths until she’d regained her calm. She stared at the water damaged columns that lead into the diamond shaped archway in awe and disbelief.

“Oscarville Georgia, Kowaliga Alabama and Susannah Alabama,” she whispered. The names of the flooded cities of runaway and freed Blacks were like venom on her lips. With disdain filled eyes she puzzled over the doorway. The joy of the area all but sapped away as tears burned at her eyes. She’d come to love Winston Salem North Carolina but now wondered if it too held a shameful submerged history.

She turned towards the larger lake, hands on the rail behind her to steady herself on and stared ominously at Spring Lake which suddenly looked unnatural.

“Mariah of Joto come find us beloved” The velvety feminine baritone voice spoke into her right ear from just behind her. Mariah spun on her heels with a dancer’s grace brandishing the large walking stick.

No one was behind her, something she knew without needing to look. But at the same time an image of an ebony-colored woman with a cloud of jet-black hair flashed in her head. An emerald cloak covered in scales hid most of her, yet Mariah felt an incredible sense of familiarity.

An unusual ripple against the current brought Mariah’s attention to the water surface just in time to see what looked like a tail of green scales gliding on the surface heading towards the archway. A pair of startling glowing gold eyes stared back at her in that darkened hallow just below the exposed roof.

“Fuck this!” Mariah uttered as she back peddled away from the rail nearly colliding into a vehicle whizzing by. The angry blare of the horn brought her back to reality and she focused her efforts on getting away from the pond as safe and quickly as she could.

Her entire body shook as she rushed up the hill, hardly acknowledging the resistance of the steep hill or how her feet felt heavier with every step that took her further away from the whispering waters. All kinds of insane and then sane rationalizations poured in and out of her mind like exchanging cups. What was it that she had seen down in that pond? Green scales, a cloak, and golden glowing eyes. She had heard a voice, felt the heat and weight of a body behind her before she had spun around to see nothing.

Had she heard a splash before she saw the abnormal ripples in the water? What about the spikey tail that had glided over the water before disappearing under the surface? The sheer thought of that made her force her stubborn feet into a trot which built to a run and finally a galloping sprint.

That night she ate dinner with her family. Her mother and father presented her with gifts passed down from mother to daughter. Her brothers blessed her name with strength, cunning and determination. Her oldest brother held his shot in the air, looked Mariah in the eyes and shouted into the moonless sky. “Mariah, I bless you with the protection of the great fire within us. May you embrace it and make us proud!”

The blessing burned down to her heart searing away all fear that had crept into its beating chambers. Leaving only a burning curiosity and thirst for the truth.

The morning in question, June 7th Mariah woke refreshed and ready to start her day the same as she had for the past 3 months. But instead of sliding on her pink Puma running shoes she slid on a pair of steel toe Timberlands. She wore her thickest leggings and long sleeve t- shirt instead of the running shorts she was used to donning. She slid her black K-Bar serrated folding knife so that it clipped into the front of her sports bra between her breasts instead of grabbing the large walking stick. She braided her curly pink afro into two large cornrows that rose like a crown around her head over her ears and down past the nape of her neck.

She filled her oldest brother's jump bag with water, tuna packets and jerky and ensured his first aid and safety gear were well stocked and packed. “Once a marine always a marine.” She grumbled as she zipped the bag closed and threw it over her shoulders.

The first unusual thing she noticed was the lack of traffic on her walk. This early in the morning there was always a busy rush of cars whizzing by on both sides of the road. Buses first with kids then filled with teenagers, cars zooming to get the passengers to their destinations. Lawn care companies that used short yellow buses to pull around trailers tugging tractors on the back. But this morning the road and surrounding neighborhoods were desolate.

The homes seemed to look back at her with sad looking black windows for eyes as if they blamed her for their abandoned state. Even the constant serenade of the birds that called Morning Star Lane home had fallen completely silent as she marched by. The wind howled around her and on it came that rhythmic beat and guitar twang she had heard coming from the doorway the day before.

All these peculiar things went by Mariah as her restless feet all but dragged her along the way. In her head she knew she had lost control of her free will the moment she had stepped out her front door. The concept both thrilled and terrified her, not that it mattered as her treacherous feet would drag her to their desired destination, willing or not. She had somehow become a magnet to the doorway.

So, when the cautionary yellow end of the guard rail came into view, she panicked a little. Fear gripped her as she worried about how her out of control body would get to its destination. Would it topple over the side of the rail leaving her paralyzed in a pond with something reptilian and large lurking just below the surface? Had she been pulled here as a midday snack? Before she could get her hands on the k bar her feet hauled her past the spot she’d stopped at so often.

Instead, she walked the long way around the rail into the dense foliage that hid a steep but sturdy hill. Had it not been for the sure-footed momentum of her feet propelling her forward Mariah would have never made it. She leapt out of the way of two snakes before her eyes could recognize the danger. Shimmed past a bush of wild roses unscathed and leapt over several down trees, exposed roots, and large rocks like she’d done it all her life.

At the bottom of the steep hill an open flat land of thick tall grass became a peaceful meadow (that seemed out of place hidden away like this). To the left of it should have been the pond in question. Instead, only the completely exposed doorway stood, the water had receded from its typical home. From ground level Mariah could see the door was at least 12 ft tall, and wide enough to allow three people to walk side by side through its entryway.

Mariah’s feet took her around to the opening of the doorway, her boots slipping and sliding on the mossy covering of the stones and ground that had once been the base of the pond. Standing in front of the door 20 ft away she could feel the energy radiating from its mouth. As if it was inhaling and exhaling with warm breath all around her. Even the scent of the summer day in a freshly emptied pond was bizarrely absent. Where one would expect the stench of rot and decay of things that had once been submerged in murky water, she instead smelled mouthwatering foods.

She could hear an old timey live band playing through the dark opening and hear laughter. The clatter of mason jars and the joy of a great party.

“So, you’ve come.” The same voice she’d heard the day before purred and echoed through the doorway. Mariah went for the blade resting between her breasts once more. “No need for that.” The woman spoke with a husky southern accent before stepping out of the doorway to be seen.

Her ebony skin shone, the green scaly cloak around her rested on her shoulders exposing her halo crown of jet-black curls. Her face took Mariah’s breath away; besides the skin complexion, hair color and those impossible gold eyes they were identical in face and height.

While maintaining a warm inviting smile, the woman extended her arm and flicked her wrist, a small motion made elegant by the way the cloak moved with her. Mariah mirrored the movement without thought or grace and sent her tactical knife flying across the slimy stones with a loud clatter. The woman rolled her shoulders as if to shrug off the cloak that rested against her like a second skin. The cloak stayed in place moving against a current of wind that carried inviting scents on it once again. Mariah on the other hand mirrored the movement and dropped the tactical bag from her dainty shoulders like it never wanted to be there in the first place. It landed just behind her feet with a soggy but satisfying plop.

“Perfect.” The woman purred as she stepped forward again, her hand extended out to Mariah. “Now come, we’re waiting.”

Mariah’s heart felt as if it beat right in her throat, her breath felt impossible to catch. But her treacherous feet followed the woman’s command and closed the distance between the two strangers with a hop and a skip over wet stones. Mariah’s hand reached out to the ebony doppelganger and was not surprised by the impossible heat in the stranger’s touch.

The cloaked woman encased Mariah’s hand in a stronghold, she spun on her heels pulling Mariah along and they walked through the darkened archway together.

Fantasy

About the author

Elevynn ThaMuse

African American creator here to shake up the supernatural thriller, fantasy genre.

Blessed be ⭐️☀️✨🪄

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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