Next guest Humor Meets Horror contribution is from my friend, J. Michael Radcliffe. Always enjoy the tales he spins!
The cool crisp wind made Isaac and his friend, Jayden, shudder as it blew past them, causing the fallen leaves to dance across the grass. They had spent the afternoon flying kites, the blustery fall day providing all the wind they needed for hours of fun. Isaac had been eager to try his new kite for the first time – it was shaped like a black dragon, with wing spread wide and a long, spiked tail. Walking home from the park, the boys quickened their pace as the sun slipped behind the clouds and the late afternoon light began to dim. Tonight was Halloween, and the boys were eager to get home and change into their costumes and go trick-or-treating.
It was dusk as they finally reached their street, with row after row of neat brick homes lined up like soldiers along the lane. Jack-o-lanterns flickered to life, the bright yellow-orange flames dancing inside the pumpkins, causing the carved faces to glow in the deepening twilight. As the boys reached the road that led to Jayden’s house, a hulking great shadow loomed out of the darkness, jumping from behind a large oak tree.
“Boo!” yelled the figure, causing the boys to jump back in fright, their kites falling to the ground. The figure lumbered towards them just as the street light at the corner came to life, bathing them in a pale white light and unmasking their attacker.
“Tavin!” yelled Jayden angrily. “You jerk! I’m telling mom!”
Jayden’s older brother Tavin guffawed and ignored his little brother’s threat.
“You two are such babies!” he laughed mercilessly. “You sure you should be out after dark? Ha ha ha!” he put his foot down on top of the dragon kite, the wood snapping loudly underneath his shoe. “There’s no such thing as dragons!”
“No!” yelled Jayden as he threw himself at his brother. The older boy just grinned as he shoved his little brother, easily knocking him to the pavement.
“Leave us alone, Tavin!” said Isaac with a scowl. He hated Jayden’s older brother. The fifteen year old picked on them both constantly, and he and his friends were the biggest bullies at school. Isaac stood up and brushed off his jeans, motioning for Jayden to follow him. He reached down and gathered up the broken remains of his kite, the dragon’s neck hanging at an odd angle.
“Come on, we’ll just go to my house,” he said as he and Jayden walked away from Tavin. They could still hear the older boy laughing as they climbed the steps to Isaac’s front door.
“It’s not fair!” shouted Isaac angrily, as his mother fussed with his costume. He was dressing up as a wizard this year, with flowing black robes and a silver dragon stitched on his sleeve. They were running late and his mother was trying to run a comb through his unruly hair.
“What’s not fair, darling?” she asked as she pressed her fingers down on a particularly troublesome lock that was determined to stick out the wrong way.
“Tavin,” he said as he tried to push his mother’s hands away from his head. “He’s such a bully. He always makes fun of us, and he broke my new kite!”
“It’s okay, Isaac,” said his mom in a soft reassuring tone. “I’m sure it was an accident, and I bet your father can fix your kite as good as new.”
Isaac’s eyes stung as he choked back tears, and his friend Jayden just stared at his feet. Both boys knew Tavin would be waiting for them somewhere in the neighborhood to steal their candy at the end of the night.
“Now, smile while a take a photo,” said his mother as the flash from her smartphone lit up his face. Grabbing their trick-or-treat bags from the table, she ushered out the boys out the front door and into the night.
Isaac and Jayden roamed the neighborhood for over an hour, until their Halloween bags were bursting with sweets. There was only one house left on the lane, and as they approached the door Jayden tugged at Isaac’s arm before he could ring the bell.
“Wait, Isaac…” he said quietly as he looked from side to side. “Do you know the lady that lives here? She’s scary!”
“She’s just different, Jayden,” said Isaac as he brushed off his friends hand and rang the bell. “She’s always been nice to me.”
A few moments later the bright green door swung inward, and a woman stepped towards the boys, smiling. In her mid-forties, her long dark hair flowed across her shoulders, and she was dressed in a set of wizard’s robes, just like Isaac.
“Oh, a pair of young wizards!” she said happily as she knelt down and put a large handful of candy into each of their trick-or-treat bags. “I’m so happy you came by, Isaac. Who is your young friend?”
“This is Jayden,” he replied, gesturing towards his friend.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, young Jayden,” she said with a polite nod. “My name is Miriam, and this is my cat, Dreyfus,” she said with a gesture towards a large, black tabby cat curled up next to a jack-o-lantern. At the sound of his name the cat opened one eye, yawned, stretched, and went right back to sleep.
“It looks like you’ve had a busy night!” she said, pointing to the Halloween bags full of sweets.
“I just wish we would get to eat our candy before he takes it away,” said Jayden, sadly. Isaac’s smile faded as he looked up at her.
“What do you mean?” she asked, a look of concern spreading across her face.
“His older brother,” said Isaac. “Tavin always steals our candy and teases me because I like dragons.”
“Hmm,” she said in a mercurial tone as she raised an eyebrow. “You boys wait here just a moment,” and she stood up and walked back into the house.
A few minutes later the Miriam reappeared, and she held her hand out to Isaac. He reached out and she placed a small amulet in his hand. It was carved in the shape of a green dragon, with a Celtic symbol emblazoned on the wings. As Isaac looked at it, the dragon’s eyes sparkled mischievously with a strange inner fire.
“A dragon!” shouted Isaac with a grin.
“Yes,” she said the as she knelt down in front of the boys. “It is my gift to you – from one spellcaster to another. This is Greatwing, an ancient dragon of immense power, who has been my friend for many years. It is time for me to pass him on to someone younger; someone who I think will be a good friend to him for many years to come.”
Isaac clasped the dragon tightly, and swore he could feel an odd sensation, almost like a heartbeat, coming from the amulet.
“I… I don’t know what to say,” he stammered. “Thank you so much!”
Miriam nodded and smiled again. “You are very welcome, young Isaac. If you are ever afraid or in danger, just close your eyes and whisper his name, and he will give you courage.”
Isaac hugged her tightly, thanking her again for the precious gift. She laughed and ruffled the boys’ hair, bidding them a good night. Dreyfus opened an eye and watched as the boys left.
“They’re going to be scared out of their wits, you know,” purred the cat as he yawned and stretched again.
“Oh, shush!” scolded Miriam. “That young man will be just fine. He will be an excellent companion for a dragon, you’ll see.” She snapped her fingers and the flame inside the jack-o-lantern was snuffed out, leaving Dreyfus in the dark.
As they walked back down the lane, Isaac reached into his robes and put the amulet in his pocket. The boys decided to head back home, as it was nearly midnight and the porch lights began winking out as another Halloween drew to a close. They were walking past a large, vacant lot when a familiar figure loomed out of the darkness. Tavin was wearing his trademark faded jeans and black hoodie, his unkempt brown hair poking out from beneath the worn fabric.
“Hand it over, brats,” he snarled, holding out his hand. “You can give it to me or I can take it – either way I win.”
Jayden and Isaac reluctantly handed over their bags of sweets to Tavin, and the older boy grinned. He poked his finger roughly into Isaac’s chest, right where the silver dragon was stitched onto his robes.
“There’s no such thing as dragons, you idiot!” he snapped with a cruel laugh. “Remember our deal, brats,” he said as he turned away. “Say one word to anybody and you’ll be sorry.”
Isaac fumed as he watched Tavin slowly saunter away from them. He shoved his hands in his pockets, his right hand closing around the dragon amulet, and he remembered what Miriam had said. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and whispered…
Without warning a loud shriek echoed across the vacant lot, like a thousand banshees screaming from the deep. The boys jumped, Isaac’s eyes snapping open as he and Jayden grabbed onto each other and looked around for the source of the commotion. Not far down the lane Tavin had dropped the bags of sweets and appeared to be staring at something in the shadows of the vacant lot.
The wind tore past the boys, almost knocking them down with the force. A huge cloud of leaves erupted violently from the shadows in front of Tavin, and as Isaac watched, they swirled skyward and gathered into a huge form hovering high above the teenager. Gradually the mass of leaves took the shape of an enormous dragon, with outstretched wings and a long, spiked tail. With a flash of bright golden light the dragons eyes flared to life, and it looked down at Tavin. Opening its massive jaws, green flames shot forth as it unleashed a roar that shook the ground beneath their feet, and sent Tavin scurrying down the lane like a frightened dormouse. As the older boy ran, the great leafy dragon hovered for a moment and watched, before flapping its giant wings once and spinning earthward, in pursuit of its prey. In mere seconds it caught up with the terrified teen, who was screaming at the top of his lungs. The dragon’s jaws opened and before Tavin could dive out of the way, they snapped shut around him as the beast banked and soared skyward again.
Isaac and Jayden watched as Greatwing spread his wings and banked across the sky high above them, before hurtling straight downward towards the street below. Just before hitting the pavement at the end of the lane, the beast flared its wings and spiraled towards the boys. Its eyes flashed brightly and leaves suddenly exploded outward with a thunderous roar, sending Tavin rolling roughly down the lane. As the wind died down and leaves fluttered back to Earth, the teenager landed at Isaac’s feet, his chest heaving as he gasped for air, his face pale and his eyes still wide with fear.
“W-w-w-what… M-m-m-monster! H-h-help me!” he cried desperately, tears streaming down his face as he crawled towards the boys. “D-d-don’t let it get me! What if it comes back – you saw it! You saw it, didn’t you?”
Isaac just smiled as he clasped the green dragon in his pocket. He looked at the quivering teen in front of him and quietly said:
“There’s no such thing as dragons…”
Learn about Michael:
An avid reader of fantasy and science fiction novels all of my life, I began writing The Guardian’s Apprentice in 2002 and did not finish until 2010. I live with my family in rural Kentucky, along with our six cats. When not acquiring more cats for our plan of world domination (cat armies are terribly hard to train), I enjoy spinning stories from the wisps of magic around me. For more information, visit my website at www.michaelradcliffe.com.