Links: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Larger Illustration; Part Five.
Part 4: Common Ground
She dropped down on me, this time I landed face-first in the mud, her huge hand clamping down on the back of my neck.
"Why did you come back?!" she hissed.
"I just wanted to see if you were real, check I wasn't going mad" I said, trying to talk with a dragon holding down on my neck and with a face full of mud, "and I... I wanted to talk to you."
She went quiet for a bit.
Then I noticed something else. "Are those bedsheets? Where did you get bedsheets?"
She appeared to be wearing a large creamy-yellowish coloured bed-sheet sewn into a sort of dress.
"None of your business," she said, "now tell me why you came back!"
"I just wanted to talk to you," I said again, "I was, you know, curious... and stuff."
"And what then, you're going to tell everyone about me and make me some kind of tourist attraction like the Loch Ness Monster and have people come out here trying to take pictures all the time? Or some hunter will come and try to shoot me as a trophy or capture me for his private zoo and I'll spend my life in a cage? Or you'll tell some scientists or something and people will do experiments on me in some lab somewhere and study me like I was some kind of freak?" Her voice sounded shaky, I turned around as much as I could and saw that she was crying.
"N-no. I... I just" I found myself speechless, trying to think of something to say to her.
She sniffed, wiping her eyes with the back of her free hand and then gave me a push further into the mud, hissing again: "What is it going to take for you to leave me alone?"
"Heh, a lot more than a face full of mud, I'm used to worse than this in school," I said, giving a nervous laugh. "But if you really want me to leave you alone, I will. I just wanted to meet you again, find out what you were like, and, you know, it's nice to know I'm not mad, so that too."
"And how do I know you're not lying?"
"Well you could let me get up and tell you to your face."
We were both silent for a moment, and for that moment I was very worried that she might not be entirely willing to hear me out... but then she released her grip and let me get up. I brushed myself off and pulled a clean tissue out of my pocked to wipe my face.
I looked at her. With her kneeling down and me standing we were about the same height. She was scowling at me, teeth bared. A part of me found this pretty menacing and wanted to run away now that I had the chance, another part of me thought she looked kind of cute when she was angry. I mentally shook myself and then told her again. "If you want me to go away, I will, and I won't bother you again. I promise not to tell anyone either, but I'd like to stay and talk for a bit, just get to know you. I've kind of always wanted to meet a real live dragon. Although," I added, looking down and blushing a little, "I have to admit you're not totally what I pictured."
"Oh really?" she said, raising an eyebrow ala Roger Moore, "what did you have pictured?"
"Well, you know... big and scaly and... reptilian looking. Not so, erm... humanoid... or, erm..."
I made a kind of "feminine curves" gesture with my hands.
"Oh." She said, raising the other eyebrow to meet the first.
"I'm not disappointed or anything!"
"I wouldn't care if you were."
I leaned against the tree again, trying to think of what to say next. She watched me closely, scowling a little, her arms folded.
"So, erm, do you live out here?"
"Most of the time, yes."
"How come I've never seen you before?"
"I usually stay away from people, but I didn't see you coming until you were too close for me to sneak away."
"How'd you know English?"
"That's for me to know and you to keep wondering."
"You're very sarcastic."
"You're pushing your luck."
I thought a bit more, remembering our first encounter.
"You mentioned your father..." I started
"And?" she said, a slight growl in her voice.
"You said you were going to take me to him but when I woke up--"
"OH, Well I thought I'd killed you when your fainted, and I heard someone else coming so I went to hide," she seemed to relax a little as she said this, "he took you away after that, so... I couldn't. Take you to my father, I mean."
"Are you going to take me to him now?" I asked.
"I... don't think that would be such a good idea," she replied, looking down at her knees, "he might not react well. I guess last time I was just worried about you telling people about me..."
"So does that mean there's more of you? More dragons?"
"Yes, there's a whole bunch of us that no one's ever seen living out here in the forest and we all walk around wearing stolen bedsheets!" she said, sarcastically waving her arms around in a theatrical way. Then she sighed and looked down for a minute, then replied, almost in a whisper, "No, it's just me. I wasn't raised by my own kind, I'm the only one I know of."
"So... you were raised by a human, is that how you know English?"
"That's right," she sighed, "I guess you had to figure it out at some point."
She relaxed a little.
I sat down at the trunk of the tree. We sat there for a while in silence, listening to the forest around us.
"Why were you... erm..." I started to ask "why are you wearing that... dress now?"
"I don't generally walk around naked, you know," she said, rolling her eyes, "I... well you caught me using a bush."
We were silent a moment more.
"My name's Heath." I said.
"Oh, I'm Helen." she said in reply.
"Helen... that's not a very dragony name..."
"I was named after someone." she said, "From Greek mythology."
I thought about this.
"After Helen of Troy, right?" I asked, "Beautiful woman who hatched from an egg."
As I said it, a thought crossed my mind, I was about to say something but before I could Helen quickly cut me off, as if she knew what I was about to ask.
"Yeah, you know that story?" she asked.
I decided the question could wait.
"Of course, I'm totally a nerd for all that mythology and stuff, that's why I've always wanted to meet a dragon."
"Oh really?" Helen was starting to loosen up a bit now.
"Yeah, I love all the old myths Viking, Greek, Roman, Chinese, but especially the ones with dragons. You're so big and graceful and you can fly and breath fire and stuff. It's cool."
"Oh," she said, looking a bit awkward. "I can't really do any of that."
"But you've got wings," I pointed out.
"Yeah, but I never learned to fly. I mean, I was raised by a human, and I just don't know how to take off. Even if I did know how, someone might see me, so I couldn't really do it much." She looked upwards, through the branches above us at some birds flying overhead. "I've always dreamed about flying though, and I keep exercising my wings; I want to keep them strong so maybe one day I can use them. Find a secluded spot, take a good run up and take off into the blue, feel the wind on my face
be a real dragon." She looked down again, fiddling with the hem of her bedsheet dress, pausing for a moment before she spoke again. "Although sometimes I just wish I could be human, that way I'd be free to walk around like normal people, and I wouldn't have to hide like this at all."
We had another minute of awkward silence, I was the first to break it.
"I'm sorry you feel you have to hide. It must be hard."
Helen gave a hollow laugh. "Hah," she said, "hard doesn't even begin to describe it. D'you know what it's like to be hiding all the time because you know someone will want to hurt you if they find you? And to grow up with no friends, always alone, there was my Dad, yeah, but he's my Dad, you know? You need more than that..."
I put my hand on her arm. "Hey, I'm a highschool nerd, I know exactly what it's like. You can feel alone sometimes even when you're surrounded by people."
Then I did something which surprised both of us. I just put my arms around her and hugged her.
She was still for a moment, a little shocked, then she reciprocated, hugging me back. She cried a bit, tears ran down the neck of my coat and into my shirt, but I didn't mind. Her body was surprisingly warm, and her skin was very smooth.
"Tell you what," I said, my chin on her shoulder still, "if you want a friend... I'd really like to come back and see you again."
She paused for a moment and then said "I'd like that."
After a while, I said "You, erm, you can let go of me now, Helen."
She let go and I staggered back a little, rubbing my leg where I'd started to get cramp.
"Sorry about that." she said.
"That's okay," I told her. "I'd better be getting back for lunch, my parents will wonder where I am."
"Kay." She smiled. She actually looked very pretty when she smiled.
"I might come back tomorrow." I said, "You want me to bring you anything?"
"Nah, that's okay."
"Erm. How will I find you if I come back again?"
"Oh, I'm always around," she said, "I'll find you if you're here."
"Oh, okay. ...I'll be going now."
"Okay. I'll probably go home too."
"Okay. ...Bye then."
And with that, I left.
I walked off slowly at first, and I decided to take a look back. I half expected her to have vanished, but she was still there.
She smiled and climbed back up into the tree, disappearing from view.
I could hear her laugh as I walked away along the footpath, skipping slightly and humming to myself. I was most definitely looking forward to coming back.