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The first time I looked out my window and saw it, I was terrified.
A dragon with black-green scales, slithering across the sky like a winged snake, smoke curling from its nostrils, so large it blocked the sun.
It was larger than seemed possible and its bulk should not have allowed flight. It seemed to slink and slither through the atmosphere, wings used for direction rather than propulsion.
It denied logic and yet it was so very real.
I stared at it through my window pane. Did he see me?
The thought of his yellow eyes looking into mine was strangely fascinating.
He passed and the thought of him went with it. I convinced myself it was a potent illusion.
Until I awoke two nights later at 2:53am to see the dragon curled around my bed post.
He had somehow shrunk so the room could accommodate him, wings furled, muscles twined around the post as he rested. Tendrils of smoke came from his nostrils and his eyes were closed.
My heart beat with fear and I matched my breath to his soft exhaled puffs of smoke. He smelled of sulfur and a metallic taste coated my tongue.
I dared not move lest he open his eyes and see me, yet somehow I had the feeling that he could not, as if a barrier separated us.
I was in my bedroom and could see this dragon wound round my bed. He was there, and somehow he was somewhere else, in another reality, where perhaps he was perched on the spire of a castle or clinging to a pine tree.
I squeezed my eyes shut and when I opened them again, he was gone.
I saw him more frequently after that. In the mornings, sliding across the sky with impossible grace; I could feel him before turning to look. There he would be, resting on the mantle or curled up on the rug at my feet.
Lest you think I’m crazy, let me assure you that I’ve wondered the same myself. He was there and then not. He appeared in my world and yet seemed quite oblivious to me.
A grand illusion, I thought, crazy or not. He never appeared when someone else was present, so I had no one to reassure me that I was not insane. Once, when I found him sprawled on the front lawn, head buried in daffodils, I ran to the neighbor’s, burst into their kitchen, interrupting the family eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon.
“Come with me! You must.” I grabbed the husband’s hand and dragged him to my lawn while his wife and two children watched, speechless.
By the time we arrived, the dragon was gone. Not even the impression of its massive head remained in the flowerbed to show he was there.
I made some vague mention of medication and apologized to my neighbor. Honestly, I didn’t care what he thought. I was obsessed with unraveling the mystery of my dragon.
The next time he appeared on my porch, I was prepared. I phoned my sister and invited her over, silently sweating as I waited in the heat and stench of the dragon only a few feet away.
No sooner did her car pull into the driveway, and he disappeared. He was there and then simply he was not.
I settled on the belief that he was mine, whether a creation of my imagination or cursed with his visitation, reinforced by the proof that no one else could see him.
I felt insane, trapped inside the dread of his next appearance, found myself hoping that he might see me as I saw him. Still, the dragon seemed locked in his overlapping reality.
The next night when I awoke with the smell of him in my nostrils, sweating in the proximity of his fire, I knew that I must touch him.
Should he awaken and finally, finally see me, it would prove either his existence or mine.
I slipped out of bed and crept down to the foot, eyes glued to the sleeping beast. His scales were so dark they almost disappeared into the night. He rested so peacefully, a presence so preposterous that I stifled the urge to laugh.
“I am stalking a sleeping dragon,” I thought to myself. “I am sleeping with a dragon.”
A snort escaped me then. Did he move in response? Did he hear me?
No, he slept on.
I crept closer. His body threw off heat like a furnace and rivulets of sweat trickled down my brow. My foot slipped on the rug, jostling me against the bed.
I sucked in my breath. He did not stir.
His head rested mid-way up the post, close enough for me to reach. His snout was lined with delicate scales, iridescent green-black in the moonlight. As my fingers drew closer, his skin radiated warmth like hot coals.
I touched his head with the tip of one finger, above his eyes, traced downward. He shivered at my touch.
He could feel me! There is something here, I thought. I knew.
His scales were smooth, hot, ridged where they overlapped. Emboldened, I stoked down his snout.
In a heartbeat, his eyes flew open, yellow slits searching the room. He hissed, exhaling smoke.
Though I stood before him, his eyes looked through me, searching for an intruder.
“See me,” I whispered, touching him again on the tough scales on top of his head.
He growled and narrowed his eyes, unfurling himself from the bedpost and stretching to his full length on the floor. I jumped back to keep clear.
So he could feel, but not see me. Could I penetrate the veil separating us?
“See me!” I yelled, feeling my heart pounding in my ears.
My voice echoed around the room, drawing no response from my dragon.
I wanted nothing more than to look into his eyes then, to know that he was seeing me.
Did he see himself in some parallel version of this reality in which I did not exist?
The dragon shifted his weight across the floor, bellowed fire into the corner. The wooden floor did not scorch under his flame.
I knew only one thing to do.
I launched myself onto his back. The dragon bucked, and I tightened my grip around his wings, using my thigh muscles to hold myself in place.
He lunged across the room, across my bed, through the walls and into the night, craning his neck to see what was astride him.
I held fast as he struggled and whispered into his ear. “Calm now. It’s me.”
Perhaps the subtle feel of my breath on his scales reassured him, for his bucking stopped. He spun, looking for the hidden assailant, drew himself back fiercely and propelled himself into the air.
The wind whistled past my face as we rose in a steep line straight up, up, up. Over the trees, below the cloud cover.
We were flying. His serpentine body stretched and contracted beneath me, scales and muscles moving against my skin.
“That’s it, boy,” I whispered.
It was like riding the night itself, dark and beautiful.
I woke up the next morning in a bed that was not mine.
It large enough to comfortably sleep four people with satiny smooth sheets of pale pink. I sat up and looked around an opulent room with speckled marble columns and a mirrored dresser against the wall.
Where am I?
I moved to get out of bed and found a wall of resistance at the border of the mattress. My eyes saw nothing obstructing me, but a solid invisible wall kept me in.
I felt the wall along the corners of the bed, four feet above, down to the marble floor.
A wordless scream built in my throat.
Then the dragon entered the room. He moved with ease across the marble, gliding now with the same grace with which he slithered across the sky.
His yellow slitted eyes met mine.
He could see me!
“Let me out!” I said, pushing against the invisible barrier. “I need to get out!”
The dragon reached beneath the bed with his tail and tossed something onto the covers, unimpeded by the barrier as I had been.
A loaf of bread. An apple. A mirror.
He watched me examine the items, exhaling smoke that plumed around his face like a moustache, and turned to go.
“No, wait!” I cried. “Don’t leave me here like this!”
There was no escaping my prison on the bed, though I flailed against the invisible walls. I beat against them in vain for what felt like hours before collapsing into an exhausted heap.
At some point I must have fallen asleep. When I opened my eyes, it was dusk in the marble room. I turned the apple over in my hands and carefully inspected the bread, sniffed them. They appeared acceptable, so I ate.
I lifted the hand mirror and held it before my face.
Where my face should have been, there was a void. A nothingness. It was as if a black hole had opened where I once existed.
How could this be?
I touched the space where my face should be and felt eyes, nose, skin, mouth.
What magic was this?
I held the mirror to reflect the nothingness of me and wept, feeling tears run down a face that the mirror told me did not exist.
The idea that I was here — and not here — was excruciating. Unbearable.
I looked around for something with which to end my life.
Pillows. Sheets. A goose down comforter. A discolored apple core.
The sheets might be useful if there was something to hang them from, but I couldn’t reach more than a few feet above the bed before the invisible barrier stopped me.
It occurred to me that I might simply will myself into not being.
I closed my eyes and focused all my might on extinguishing the light of life that was me, shrinking everything down into a nothing that winked itself out of existence. I grew so still that I scarcely breathed. It seemed to me that my life was so tenuous that it should be easily snuffed out with a thought.
It would not go.
A glance in the mirror told me I was still not there, though I could feel myself as if I were. The dragon seemed to want me to know that. Perhaps it gave him some sick enjoyment.
I thought of the way I’d touched the scales on his nose and launched myself uninivited onto his back and felt shame.
His presence had taunted me in my world, and I had used him unbidden. It was only right that he would do the same to me.
There was nowhere for me to relieve myself, so I took a pillow and designated one corner of the gigantic bed as toilet.
I ought to have felt humiliated, squatting over a pillow, but I did not. If anything, I felt determined.
What could touch me if I did not exist, really?
I slept again because I had nothing else to do. I dreamed of flying on the dragon’s back, racing through thick, dark storm clouds without fear. I inclined my head to the right or left and the dragon responded by shifting course, as if we were one.
It was exhilarating.
I lingered in the space before waking for as long as possible, holding onto the last fragments of my dream, afraid to open my eyes.
When I did, I found that the bed was gone.
I was naked, lying on the bare dirt floor of a cavern. A soft glow emanated from the crystalline rocks of the walls, illuminating the space.
Whatever will I’d had to fight or do or undo myself was gone.
I sat and let the room’s dim softness consume me. It felt as if the boundaries around my body disappeared into the air, the light, the sound of dripping water echoing through the cavern. The movement of air was both my breath and the draft. When I wiggled my toes, I saw them from outside myself and within at the same time, another shape painted on the three dimensional canvas of my field of vision.
I let myself go into the very dust of the air in the room, the smallest particles that seemed to open and invite me to know them. All thoughts of the dragon, the bed, my dream, the life I’d had before fell away.
There was only this moment. The silence of it infused my being.
I sat this way for I know not how long. It could have been seconds or decades.
Without thinking, I stood and found no barrier to stop me. My body moved of its own accord, like the water of a river winding the way it must go.
To the edges of the cavern, around corners, down into the barely illuminated darkness, through pools of water that chilled my feet. On and on as if I knew where to go by where I was going.
The light grew brighter and I followed the glow out into the full mid-day sunshine. Shielding my eyes as they grew accustomed to the brightness, I saw the grass beneath my feet, trees, a gravel road.
My gravel road.
I was back on the farm, standing naked in the sunshine.
The recognition bubbled up from my solar plexus and laughter poured out of me. Somehow I was no happier than I’d been before the movement took me, no more or less peaceful.
The laughter was mine and it belonged to something greater at the same time.
I walked to my home with a feeling of floating, encountering no one. As I crossed the threshold, I sank to my knees and laughed again.
There was nothing to do but what was given me to do.
So I took a shower, dried myself with care, put on clothes. Checked voicemail and email. I did the things I’d always done.
And yet, it was not as it had been before.
I gazed at myself in the mirror and my eyes seemed to smile as if they knew some mystery. Looking into them, into my eyes, I felt it, even as it eluded me, and I wondered at how I could know this without knowing.
I looked out the window, curious to see if the dragon might appear again. He did not.
But if he ever did, I would know what to do. Because I always do. I always did.
I’d just forgotten.