Wait. Look. That’s it, the whole message. Short and sweet, but without malice.
I opened my eyes and the black fog cleared up and became white clouds with grey in them, threatening to rain as I felt them move past me. Then I realized I was gliding through the cloudy sky. Sharply, I gasped and the shock of cold wet air in my mouth and the back of my throat choked me. I coughed but with a sense of urgency, and forced myself to keep my eyes as wide open as I could.
Is this real? I wondered.
Yes, it is real. The answer was very clear and again, simple.
I was gliding and then I could feel myself tense up against a movement. A flying horse? A Pegasus? Those were my first thoughts. Turned out that no, not a winged horse, but not too terribly off the mark, considering. It was indeed a flying beast, I realized, but no horse.
Is this a bird? I considered the possibility that maybe I was somehow small enough to ride the back of a bird.
Don’t be stupid, was the return. Look.
I looked down and I gulped hard. Not because I was so high up. With so many clouds, a blanket above and another blanket of clouds below, I couldn‘t actually see the ground at all. But I saw the tangle. The black tangle was wrapped around my right arm, tightly, and it spread and stretched out downwards and a bit forward, down and around the neck of a large something, a beast, mostly reddish brown. I knew my left hand was touching the beast but I ignored that. I pretended that I wasn’t. The texture wasn’t a detail my brain was ready to accept.
The feeling of being not near such a large beast but on it, upon it, at its mercy and not on the ground where I could run away, was an aspect of my predicament I kept at bay. I was doing my best to keep my wits and not completely freak out. But I did keep my eyes open and I was able to see small parts, tiny pieces of what was unfolding.
My harness. The tangle was acting as a harness, and it was attached to the beast by the hooked mouths of ant-like creatures.
The harness, my black tangle, jerked two strands and the beast turned its head around to look directly at me.
I looked into the beast’s face, directly into one of its eyes and I can tell you, I really only did that because it was staring so close and just right into my face, I simply didn’t have a choice. There was no question, no denying what it was. It was a dragon.
The dragon took me by surprise when it smiled then, a little sweet smile, almost as if it knew me. I swear it smiled. There’s no other way to describe what I saw.
He turned his head back around to concentrate on where we were going. His great wings flapped twice and we started to glide a bit higher. Confidence and curiosity encouraged me to at least try to be a little less afraid and I untucked my chin and straightened my back a bit. I squinted my eyes against the wind and the moisture in the air. I breathed it in deeply, and realized that I had never experienced breath like that before. It wasn’t just the air or the moisture in it, there was a sense of life and exhilaration that felt altogether new. I was riding the dragon, being held there by the joint efforts of my dark tangle and an army of tiny, but clearly very strong, ant-like creatures.
We, all of us, flew high up, close to the clouds. The wispiness swept down the length of my hair as we sped along, and the cool damp clung to my forehead and the tips of my ears. My nose got cold and I leaned forward, back down close to the dragon and pressed my face into his neck. He shuddered a little and made a funny snort or chortle and I really think I must have tickled him.
Then a fluttering, excited movement came at my face from just beyond, just right outside my vision. Something struck me, in my head.
The dragon scowled, and turned its body down, straight downwards, and we were suddenly plummeting. We cut through a patch of clouds and I could see the ground below. Jagged mountains seemed to enlarge and expand outward and upward to meet us. Me, the dragon, the black tangle and a crew of creature-ants.
I flattened my body as tightly as I could against the dragon’s back. I grabbed onto the black tangle. She sort of pushed my hand away, which sent an alarm through me, but then she wrapped around my hand and wrist. I understood then she was adjusting the grip on both sides and making sure I wouldn’t fall.
Through the fall, I saw the ants much closer. They were lined up all around the neck of the dragon, giving the black tangle something to hold fast.
But we were still falling at the rate of a scream, and the jagged mountains zoomed up to meet us. I heard and felt something big ram us from the left, hard.
My room was there still, and my muscles had relaxed. I could move freely again.
Somehow, I had managed to flip around to the other side of my bed. My feet were on my pillow and my arms were outstretched, hanging over the side of my bed.
I rubbed my eyes and sighed. It was a dream. Just a dream, I thought.
No, it wasn’t.
A violent chill slammed into the back of me, covering my spine and then slowly wrapping around my whole body like two long and icy pincers.
Is anyone dead? I couldn‘t see how anyone could survive that fall.
Almost. He suffered. I knew she meant the dragon.
“Because of me or not because of me?“ I whispered to the tangle. Tears stung my eyes.
It isn‘t entirely your fault. But you are not faultless.
He will heal, mostly.
AVOIDING THE HARD WORK
After that day, I focused on doing really amazing things, like house chores. I polished wood furniture until I was dizzy from the fumes. I pulled weeds until my hands bled. I cleaned dishes until I broke one and my mom yelled at me. You know it‘s bad when parents complain that you‘re doing too much around the house.
Distractions and busyness were important to me. Not that I was doing it conscientiously, but looking back, it‘s very clear and extremely obvious.
That happens a lot, the older you get. You figure things out and can look back on moments of your past in a different, clearer way. Sometimes it‘s good, sometimes it‘s annoying. This was a moment where I disappointed myself. I didn’t live up to my own expectations of how to be.
Those days were hot and busy and strangely unfocused and fuzzy, just like I was. I had no direction but to avoid what was bothering me.
The black tangle must have sensed this and even accepted it, because she stayed away for a long time. Maybe seven months or so.
Doesn‘t seem like much time to me now, seven months, but when you‘re young enough to live at home, so many months is nearly a year, and nearly a year can be the difference between twelve and a teenager, or fifteen and sweet sixteen, or seventeen and old enough to vote, get married without a parent‘s consent, or even join the military and kill people. Seven months is quite enough time to do a lot, to change in unexpected ways.
Realizing the black tangle was my muse was a thing that developed slowly, and only after she returned to me again, when I was ready. While she was away, I went through various theories about her.
She started as a ghost in my mind, not a muse at all, really. I thought she might be Rebecca, the famed ghost of a romantic place called, simply enough, The Lodge in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Rebecca used to haunt that place, but stopped shortly after my family visited there in the 80s. So I thought maybe my tangle was in fact the famous ghost of Rebecca, and that she must have followed us home. But no, that wasn’t it and even as I contemplated it, I knew it couldn’t be right.
Then I thought maybe the dark tangle was an angel, that maybe people tend to think of angels as having wings when really it‘s their dragons that have them. I thought maybe she had been sent to teach me a lesson.
But after a while, that seemed less likely, because I didn’t seem to be learning that much about anything. If there had been a lesson at all, I had apparently missed it.
Once I had swallowed down enough guilt to feel like I should actually do something about my life, I started to write.
I wrote about dragons and about the types of humans who spend time with dragons. I wanted my fantasy stories to seem as realistic as possible, so I read about dragons in stories and myths and then studied articles and journals about stories and myths.
The more I read, the more I realized that dragon stories come from all over the world. Ancient myths and ancient beliefs about dragons are everywhere and I started to wonder why.
Then I wondered about the falling. I remembered the ants, or ant-like creatures, and I started to do research on ants. I found nothing like what I had seen. There were similarities, but not a precise match.
I asked my mom if I could have an ant farm.
“No way,” Mom said. My mom is a real talker, but she’s a woman of few words if she thinks the topic is ridiculous.
So that was out. I decided to try and call for help from the black tangle. At that point, I wasn’t even sure if she hadn’t moved on, far away from me, to inspire someone else. Maybe she was showing someone else how to ride a dragon.