"The Last Dragon"
The night was cold and dark, but the small band of travelers did not retreat to their tents. As one of the adults tended to the fire, the children marveled at the stars poking through gaps between the now thinning expanse of dark clouds. The sightings of the sky was a rare wonder for them seeing as the large, dark cloud had covered the sky from horizon to horizon for nearly a decade.
One of the children yelped with joy. He had seen the moon glowing pale yellow against the dark gray clouds. The adults grinned in spite of themselves, and looked up at the moon in awe as well. As soon as the children's eyes adjusted to the moonlight and they began to seen craters inside the moon and a faint ring around the moon, the clouds began to thicken. The show was over. The childrens' appetites for observing and discovering was not.
They all turned to the man stoking the fire. He kept prodding at the fire with a metal pole he had found earlier that day while the children looked on at him, their eyes wide and pleading. He had the slightest hint of a grin on his face as he teased the children with his silence. He had long since become the storyteller of the caravan, the children devoured his stories about the moon, the sun, eclipses, meteor showers, and a magical thing he blandly called the Northern Lights. Tonight, he was sure he had a story that children would muse over for days.
He propped the metal pole against his leg and began. Excited but still calm, the children climbed into their mothers' laps and listened.
The summer night was comfortably cool, but still chilled the young boy who sat beside his uncles and his father around the bonfire. The boy wrapped his jacket around his knees and stared bored into the fire before him. The flames, red at the core with yellow popping in wherever it could find enough heat, devoured the wood that kept it alive. This fire was not like the flame of a candle, tame and moving slow. The fire made swift, pointless leaps into the air sending small sparks all the way to the tree tops.
The boy tossed a twig into the fire and watched the flamed overpower it, burning it to a crisp in a few minutes time. The older men around him chattered, laughing loudly and giving him a rough pat on the back every now and then.
Just when the boy decided to escape to the tent, a noise from the forest stopped him. The older men also heard the noise. The all stopped their talking, a few of them grasped their makeshift spears in a white-knuckled grip.
They heard the noise again. It was a loud bump that shook the earth slightly accompanied with the crunch of foliage and the crack of thick branches breaking away. The noise was loud, too loud for a bear or a cougar, or any other beast you would expect to find in a forest at that day in time. The men stood ready by the fire, crouched with their spears at their sides. The boy stood upright in the shadow of the tree canopy, his eyes wide with wonder and fright.
The sound came again, louder and closer almost as if it was going to come crashing through the canopy at any second. Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped. A low growl came from the shadows of the forest that sent fearful vibrations through the earth and straight up the boys body.. Just as suddenly, two jets of steam came from the invisible attacker, the white color stood out against the dark night.
"Come forward, coward!" one of the boy's uncles called.
Out of the forest limped a grand beast. Though his limp hindered him, his gait was strong and full of pride. His thick body unknowingly pushed against tree trunks and broke branches, his tail swayed with a rhythm similar to a calm, ocean wave. The beast, the boy realized, was a dragon.
The men dropped their spears and fell to their knees at the feet of the ancient beast. The boy did nothing. He was still looking on in amazement. He saw small horns under the dragon's chin and nostrils as it breathed steam on his uncles' and father's heads. Small, batwing shaped ears were extended to their full span on each side of the dragons head while his wings remained closed and held close to his sides. possibly, the boy realized, so he could walk through the dense forest with ease.
The boy also realized that the dragon was old. His burgundy scales were tarnished and falling off in some places. His twisted horns atop his head were scuffed and cracked. The jeweled scales around his neck and long ago lost their luster. The dragon left the old men and walked towards the boy, His legs were stiff with arthritis, and he grunted with each step his took.
The boy stood still and placid as the dragon came towards him, not feeling the need to bow as the others had done. When the dragon was close enough, the boy held his hand out. The dragon nuzzled it, then blew warm steam on the crown of the boy's head. The dragon then looked up at the sky. It was a clear night, and the stars shined brighter than usual. The dragon's look was longing, almost sad.
The boy retreated to his tent and came back with a urn of oil, the rarest oil in his collection. Without a second thought, he tossed the lid aside and began pouring the oil out. The dragon dropped his head and began lapping the oil as it came out of the urn.
The dragon then walked away from the camp and into a clearing. He looked up again at the sky, up at the heaven that held his mate, his children, and his children's children. He had long since become tired his life as the last dragon and wished only to fly up to his family and rest eternally with them, but he was old and his wings were weak.
Steam came from the dragon's nostrils again but were quickly replaced with a deep red flame. The dragon began to march forward and back, keeping the streaming flame constant. The boy's uncles and his father slowly approached the place where their nephew and son stood, each looking on with the same expression of fear and wonder.
The dragon threw his head back, the flame fell backwards like a ribbon and landed between his horns and down his neck. The flame imitated the mane of a horse. With the shake of his head, the fire grew wild and covered the dragon's neck like the mane of a lion. The dragon then threw his head back and let out a magnificent roar. The roar was not like that of any beast but more like the crackle of the fire that began to engulf his entire body.
The men and the boy watched as the dragon danced. The fire around it danced as well; it's color was not red or orange but golden with a sapphire base the moved in this lines like a mesh of intertwining creeks.
As the dance was nearing its end, large, bright sparks came off of the dragon. They twirled and skipped upwards beyond the treetops and maybe all the way to heaven. The dragon danced and danced that night until there was nothing more of him but a burgundy jewel that, oddly enough, shined brighter at night than in full sunlight.
The story had excited the children, but they began to yawn and their mothers ushered them into their tents. The man also went to his tent, but he could not sleep. He rummaged through his bag until he found a small, leather purse. The shine that came from the jewel inside of it put his candle to shame. With the jewel, cool and smooth in his hand, he went to sleep and dreamt of stars, dragons, and heaven.