Wonder Woman fought back, the invisible powers hidden in her birthright surging into life. Sherry sucked in her breath, transported by the glittering action on the bowling alley’s TV. And that crystal plane – imagine being able to soar away from all her troubles…
“Sherry,” Aunt Delia, called. “Go get my jacket out of the car. Now!” she added when her niece didn’t move fast enough.
“Sorry,” Sherry muttered.
She wasn’t sorry, she thought rebelliously. As she wove between the cars in the wet parking lot, Sherry considered whether she could divorce herself from her aunt and uncle, or whether that only applied to parents. A judge probably wouldn’t consider her aunt’s jibes and her uncle’s grumbling about feeding and housing her as grounds for cutting ties with the only family she had.
And she was barely fifteen. How could she support herself? Would foster care be any better?
She pulled Delia’s jacket from the SUV, and then grabbed her own sweatshirt and backpack. She’d pass the time sketching. Maybe that would exorcise the visions that were crowding into her head night after night. Maybe that would keep her from sliding into crazy.
Sherry shivered and yanked on her sweatshirt as the rain began pelting down again. Even pulling up the hood didn’t keep her dry as she ran for the bowling alley’s entrance. Her wet sneakers slid on the inside floor and the smell of disinfectant and sweat made her wrinkle her nose. If only she could escape into clean air and silence instead of having to spend another evening in this hole. Scowling, she trudged over to where her aunt and uncle were bowling with two of Uncle Sid’s friends and their partners.
“Sherry, hon,” Christina said. “Why aren’t you playing?”
“I wasn’t invited,” Sherry snapped. At a venomous look from her uncle, she added. “I’m not much of a bowler.”
She edged away and then found a table by the snack bar. Her stomach growled – Aunt Delia had had to stay late at work, and so had picked her up at 5:30 from school. “I’m not missing my bowling night because of you,” she’d said. “You’ll have to come along….”
“Can’t you drop me off at home?” Sherry’d begged. “Please?”
“Not when it means adding another 45 minutes to the drive.” Her aunt lit a cigarette and tore out of the parking lot. “You know how Sid acts when we’re late.”
Sherry knew. Sid would be all cheerful in front of his friends, but he’d storm around for hours later, blaming both Delia and Sherry whether they could help it or not.
Delia had bought a cardboard boat of nachos for her niece, but Sherry’s stomach was growling again. So what else was new? There must be some gigantic growth spurt on her horizon given how much she was eating lately. She supposed she could go over and help herself to the chicken wings and pizza they’d ordered, but last time Delia had made snide comments about how as a teen she’d been worried about getting fat.
For a few minutes, Sherry stared at the posters over the snack bar. She loved the one of an ice blue dragon soaring over a misty mountain range. Its shimmering form tugged at her heart. If only she could soar like that…
Fat chance. Sherry sighed and pulled out her pencils and pad. Delia had made it obvious that she’d really disliked her older brother and Sid had made it even clearer that he furiously resented raising his brother-in-law’s kid. Sherry’s mother had never been in the picture for some reason Sherry had never been told. And after her father, Kai, had disappeared on an ocean fishing trip four years ago, Sherry’d been so scared and misery-struck that she’d felt frozen. But just when the judge was about to order Sherry into foster care, Delia had abruptly looked away from Sid and offered to keep her niece. Sherry wondered if she regretted it now.
The light was bad, but when Sherry took the pencil between her fingers it seemed like the visions forming in her mind didn’t need light to translate themselves onto her paper. Her hand moved swiftly. Waves rose from the page and in her mind their thunder and icy spray seemed to fill her senses.
A small boat…her father’s boat…foundered on rocks.
Sherry flipped the page and drew feverishly.
She could hear him shouting…hear the sounds…feel the cold…the desperation.
A flight of dark forms silhouetted against luminous clouds…
And then a surge of heat…a cracking in the bones…
“Sherry! Where are you?” Delia’s voice sliced through the dream. Sherry shook her head as the vision abruptly vanished. The pencil dropped from her suddenly numb fingers.
“Here, Aunt Delia,” she called. Her voice cracked a little but no one noticed. Keeping her head down, she gathered up her pad and pencils and without looking at what she’d drawn, stuffed them in her pack.
Her aunt and uncle stood by the door laughing and making plans for the next bowling night with their friends. Sherry waited, a little out of the way, glad to be ignored.
On the drive home she stared out the window, watching raindrops pushed sideways against the glass. She wouldn’t let the visions take her away…she wouldn’t…
It was late when she crawled into bed – she’d not realized how much time had passed in the bowling alley. For several minutes, she sat upright, leaning against the cold wall. Somehow she hoped that that twinge of discomfort would yank her back to the ordinary, to the dull moments that stretched over the months and months before the visions had started. What had started all this anyway?
Sherry clenched her fists, breathing quickly, feeling like she was using her mind like a spotlight, searching out the weird corners of shadow. Flashing, then pulling back in case the light showed a monster.
“Maybe I’ve just finally cracked,” she muttered. “I mean…father tragically disappears…grouchy aunt and horrible uncle.” She waited, hoping the words would act like an incantation – anything to keep away the fire and shadows that haunted her. But for now there was nothing. Wearily she slid down under the covers.
Her dreams were restless, full of voices that called her. But the speakers were hidden in the fogs that swirled over heaving water…the cliffs were slick with thundering waves…shimmering ice caves echoed voices…a huge glacier cracked apart and a tower of ice splashed into a crystal lake…
The next morning, when Sherry stumbled down to the kitchen, she thought she’d throw up when she looked at the boxes of cereal. Delia watched her impatiently as Sid filled his travel mug with coffee and cream.
“You aren’t sick are you?” Delia demanded.
Sherry shook her head mutely. It was Delia’s day off. She would take it badly if a sick teen interrupted her plans.
“No…no…I’m fine…” Sherry muttered.
“You don’t look fine. Later.” Sid gave his wife a peck on the cheek and headed for the door. Delia grimaced slightly and stared at her niece.
“I’m…I’m…” Sherry forced out. She took a step, then the world spun and she collapsed into darkness.
She awoke later, her head swimming, feeling like fire and ice were slicing through her veins, aware that she was lying on a sofa with a heap of blankets over her. Delia sat in a chair opposite, smoking a cigarette, scowling.
“You okay?” her aunt demanded.
Sherry opened and shut her mouth, then managed to croak. “Yes…sorry…don’t know…”
“I’ll bet you don’t.” Delia savagely stubbed out the cigarette. “Good thing Sid didn’t see that. That would really give him something to snarl about.”
Sherry lay still, not knowing what to say, slow tears leaking down her cheeks.
“You’re just like them after all – my mother and my dear brother, Kai!” Delia stared, her mouth working in anger. “But you don’t know…you couldn’t know.” She paused and suddenly tears were slipping from her eyes as well, smudging mascara into black rivulets like some kind of mask. She slapped the arm of the chair, again and again.
“You’re going to be like them…” she cried, voice hoarse. “You’re going to be like them.”
Sherry stared back, weak, terrified.
Delia laughed bitterly. “And you don’t even know what I’m talking about. But you will. In a few days or a few weeks, you’ll know. Then their voices will call you away and you’ll leave me like everyone else.” Delia’s shoulders heaved. “You’ll go and leave me behind and forget me. And there’s no one left for me but Sid.” She spat her husband’s name, grabbed her purse, and slammed out of the house.
Sherry heard the car start in the driveway and the screech as the vehicle pulled away.
She slept for awhile. The voices called her through her dreams…she could hear them now.
Compelling. Rich. Loving.
Was it her father’s voice? And others too…
Sherry drifted into consciousness, her mind reaching for the voices. She sat up, feeling the tug, the joy of being called by people who loved her.
The voices and sights blended into her mind like beloved memories – crystal-lined grottos with waves beating on the distant rocks, glittering ice caves with Arctic wind howling above, turquoise-studded caverns cool beneath desert sun. As she stood, she realized that her strength had returned. No…she was stronger now.
With a delighted laugh, Sherry flexed her arm. Just like Wonder Woman something had woken up inside her; something had surged into her veins making her stronger and more alive.
She tried jumping up to touch the ceiling, but other than better balance, she didn’t magically leap into the air with a single bound. Sherry laughed again. She didn’t care – she felt so good!
And then she caught sight of her fingernails.They’d been painted red and yellow for her school colors, but the lacquer had chipped. Beneath the polish, her nails shone a brilliant sapphire. Sherry stared and then frantically picked at the chipped polish. Impatiently she ran to the bathroom and rubbed remover over her nails.
Her fingertips shone like sapphires.
She ripped off her socks, and her toenails shone the same way.
“I’m changing,” Sherry murmured. “I’m changing into Wonder Woman.”
For several days, Sherry ate everything she could lay her hands on, carefully painted her nails with polish every morning, and then in delight removed the polish to reveal the glowing sapphire every night.
Aunt Delia watched her narrowly but Sherry didn’t care. Sid noticed nothing except that his wife left the hatch peppers out of the chili. He yelled at her over and over again all evening until Sherry wanted to heave a bowl of the chili at his head.
Delia didn’t seem to care about Sid’s tantrum other than to throw a look of loathing at him.
But to Sherry’s amazement, when her day off rolled around again, Delia came into her niece’s bedroom and asked if she wanted to go out for brunch. “And maybe do some shopping,” she added.
“It’s a school day,” Sherry pointed out.
Delia laughed, not a happy sound. “Trust me, Sherry. It isn’t going to matter.”
“I can deal with missing a day of classes,” Sherry offered with a grin.
When Delia laughed this time, it had a more cheerful sound.
Breakfast was fun. Delia asked her about school, about her friends. “What’s going on?” Sherry finally demanded. “You never asked before.”
Delia shrugged. “I was mad about Kai leaving,” she said. “So, I guess I took it out on you. So sue me.”
Sherry scowled and refused to say anything when they climbed into the car. “I have a stop to make,” Delia told her. “It will only be a few minutes.”
While her aunt hurried into the lawyer’s office, Sherry picked at the edge of the polish on her fingertips in order to revel in the brilliant blue glow hiding beneath. When she tired of that, she gazed out the windows and tried to call to the voices.
Please, she sent out, please, can you hear me?
As though from a long distance, she heard faint words reaching out to her. We are waiting for you…We are all waiting for you…
How can I find you? Sherry pleaded.
When it is time, you will come to us. You will know where to find us.
And then they were gone. Sherry tried again and again to call them but there was nothing but silence. When her aunt got into the car, Sherry barely noticed the grim cast to Delia’s mouth.
“What?” Delia demanded.
Sherry tried not to cry, to be cool. “I…I keep hearing voices…like my dad and other people calling me…” her voice broke. “I mean…maybe I’m just crazy…”
Delia froze and then suddenly leaned over and pulled her niece into her arms, laying her cheek against her hair. “Not crazy, Sherry. You don’t know what you’re dealing with and you’re just a kid.”
Sherry thrust her away. “If you know, then why aren’t you telling me?”
Delia’s face hardened and she sat back. “You’ve heard of family secrets, haven’t you? Well, I’m not ready to break this secret open.” She put the SUV in gear, and pulled out into the traffic, nearly clipping another car.
She swore at the other driver and then clamped her mouth into a thin line. Sherry preserved a stony silence and was surprised when instead of taking her home, Delia pulled into the mall’s parking lot. Still hardly speaking they walked into the building and Delia led her niece to a jewelry store.
“Pick something,” she said. “Anything you want. I want you to have something nice from me to you.”
Sherry stared at her. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “Am I?” her voice shook a little.
Delia stared down at the displays of diamond bracelets. “Not unless you want to. Nowhere you don’t want to go. But you’re a teenager, and don’t teens always want to leave?”
Picking out the gift was completely surreal, Sherry decided. Delia suddenly got all forced cheerful and together they picked out a white gold bracelet studded with diamonds and sapphires. It must have been insanely expensive because Sherry thought the sales person was going to collapse with joy when the charge was approved by the credit card.
“Won’t Uncle Sid mind?” Sherry asked nervously.
“Ask me if I care,” Delia snapped.
Sherry decided not to ask.
The dreams were more powerful that night. Sherry thought maybe she was flying in Wonder Woman’s crystal plane, over towns and countryside until she reached the ocean. The night was clear with stars picked out like the diamonds on her bracelet. She tried to touch the band on her wrist, but her dream self didn’t seem to be able to do it.
She could hear her father and other voices she thought she knew somehow urging her onward. It was like being called home…
And then the plane dissolved into air and Sherry was falling through the night, screaming…
Aunt Delia’s arms were around her, catching her. “It’s okay, Sherry,” her aunt said. “I got you. You’re safe.”
“What’s happening?” Sherry sobbed, clinging to her aunt. She felt like her very skin was vibrating, her veins throbbing with fire. Like she was burning up inside.
“Your father’s a selfish pig,” Delia told her. “He should be here, helping you…”
“He’s dead,” Sherry cried hysterically. “How’s he supposed to help me?”
“He’s not dead!” Delia shouted. “He left you for them…he left us both…”
And they were clinging to each other, sobbing. Finally Sherry wiped her forearm across her sticky face and pulled back a little. “That make’s no sense.” Her voice was dull and low.
Delia mopped at her own face with the edge of a sheet, leaving grey smudges of makeup.
“He should have told you,” she said.
“Told me what?” Sherry pulled the blankets up around her. She shivered now, the internal fire almost burned out.
Delia scowled but her lip was trembling as she sat back. “It’s insane, mythology insane.” When Sherry didn’t answer, she went on. “Way back when, some dragon took human form and married one of our great-great-grandmothers. And so mythological beasts…things that shouldn’t exist…are stirring around in our DNA.”
She looked anxiously at her niece. “Kai changed…exploded into his dragon form around your age, but the genes skipped me. Our mother was the same. When Kai, who was her pride and joy anyway, burst into his heritage, the two of them took off to some dragon colony up in Nova Scotia…left me behind like garbage to be picked up by the state.” Her voice was bitter.
“That’s why you took me,” Sherry said.
Delia nodded. “I didn’t want you to be dropped like I was. All because Kai and Mom had this great thing going on…and…and I was too ordinary. Now you’re changing and you’ll go too.”
“I won’t go.” The fierce resolution in her voice surprised even Sherry.
“You’ll have to.”
“I won’t leave you behind…” A promise she would keep, Sherry realized. No matter what. And the stir of anger she’d pushed away was rising. Her father had left her. She would never have seen him again if she hadn’t changed…
Were they all like that, those dragons? Would she be like that – only caring about the magical others? She looked at Delia’s stony face.
Maybe her aunt was snarly but she’d taken her in, knowing she might be abandoned again.
Bitterly, Sherry realized it would be a long while before she’d want to see her father again, dragon or not. She was so over grieving for him.
Instead, she let her mind free, pulling in the memories – the memories of hundreds of her people. There…it was different there. The sounds of arctic wind, warm hearts and cold air; she remembered the flashes of crystal caves…ice caves…
And then, with the flood of shared memories, she knew where they would belong.
“We can go to Alaska,” Sherry said, excitement rising. “There are more dragons there…different ones.”
She heard their voices, emerging like wind in her heart.
Delia stared, eyes widening. Sherry heard the call, saw the ice caves in the far north, knew that there was a town where dragons and humans shared their lives – not separated from each other.
“Silver Claw,” Sherry whispered. “It’s called Silver Claw…”
Two months later, the float plane touched down on the far northern waters of Silver Lake. Delia and Sherry clambered down on the dock, their breath frosting in the cool air. They looked around cautiously, watching as it seemed half the town came down to meet them.
“Welcome,” a big red-haired man said. He strode onto the dock and held out his hand. “I’m Pat Kelly, mayor of this town. Welcome home.”
If you enjoyed this Dragon of Earth, Fire, Water and Air story, there are more! Check out my other free short dragon stories: For Love of a Dragon, Dragon Dreams, Nell and the Ice Dragon and Dragon Love. My full-length novels Dragons of Desert and Dust and Dragons of Frost and Fire are available in paperback, Kindle and other ebook platforms and Dragons of Wind and Waves will be released in 2018.
Free stories and blogs at http://www.susanbrownwrites.com. Everything can be found on my website, just click on the bar at the top!