The shade over the bench sheltered Gwen from the sun, but the metal armrest still burned her arm. She took a drink from her water bottle and stared out at the playscape, wondering why going for a walk had seemed a good idea. She’d gotten as far as the bench. The playground nearby had a couple kids. There must be something wrong with those kids, thought Gwen—normal kids would be parked in front of their televisions.
One boy sat near the swing pushing pebbles around with a stick. Another boy stomped on acorns he’d set on the sidewalk as if to compensate for his lack of someone to bully. Gwen squinted as she looked around for more adults, parents, but saw no one else. She wiped sweat from her forehead. It was time to head back. Why had she thought she could escape her troubles out in this heat?
Shoving the water bottle back into her shoulder bag, Gwen was about to stand when there came a loud crack. She whipped around in fright as if a gun had gone off. While it wasn’t exactly the kind of neighborhood she’d expect to hear gunfire in, it wasn’t exactly an impossibility either. She glanced over at the two boys. The intimidating one was walking away innocently enough. The other boy was looking back at her.
Why was he looking at her? She wasn’t responsible for the noise. It hadn’t come from her, it had come from . . . She looked up. It had come from up above. She leaned forward to see beyond the overhanging tree branch. Nothing but cloudless blue. Wait. Something was wrong with the sky. It shimmered and waved. She wiped more sweat from her face. Must be the heat. The sky was opening. She shook her head and stood, keeping her eyes on the blazing blue above.
A black line widened across the sky. The line’s edges rolled though she couldn’t be sure because everything was too bright to look at directly. Then something was falling.
Something was falling very fast. Gwen screamed.
The last hundred yards or so the object accelerated. It looked like an animal. It had legs. Wings. It landed in the baseball field in a puff of hot dirt and dry grass. Gwen thought she might scream again, but she was too shocked to do anything. It was a dragon.
It was a huge beast, as big as her house. Its scales gleamed, too brilliant to look at. They were orange or maybe gold. It clapped its tail onto first base. Gwen jumped.
The dragon swung its large head around, taking in its surroundings. It spotted Gwen and nodded. Its eyes were emerald green, its teeth long and white, and its tongue pure red, like it had fallen out of a book. She should run for her life, but she found herself walking towards it, slowly, but towards it just the same. Her heart rammed against her breastbone as if to escape without her. The dragon watched her approach.
Gwen came to a stop a few feet from its head. Even if the thing moved to take her arm with its sharp long teeth, she didn’t think she’d move. Light bounced off its scales like flames. She looked back up at the sky, as much as to give her eyes a rest from the thing’s brilliance as to see if any more dragons might be following.
“I came alone,” the dragon said. “I think.”
“I make myself,” he said, “understood.”
“You’re a dragon,” came a voice from behind Gwen. Startled, she turned her head to see, and of course, it was the boy. He still held onto a stick, and pebble dust covered his knees.
“You can call me that, yes,” the dragon replied.
“Are you going to eat us?” the boy asked.
Gwen was disturbed to see the excitement in the boy’s face as he said this, as if he couldn’t imagine a happier fate. “He can’t,” she said to the boy, making up answers she didn’t know.
“I am not hungry,” the dragon replied.
What did one say when meeting a talking dragon? “Hi. I’m Gwen. Gwendolyn Harth.” Without thinking she held out her hand. “Oh.” She dropped her hand to her side. She tried to smile.
“I’m Erick Edward Bimsingdale the third,” the boy said.
Gwen shot him a look that said she didn’t believe that for a minute.
“Call me Bim,” the boy added and rolled back on his heels. “How come you’re here anyway?”
“It is not possible for me to say,” the dragon answered, “at this time.”
“Uh,” Gwen began, not sure she wasn’t hallucinating from the heat and that in a moment she would open her eyes to find that she’d passed out in the dirt. “Are you going to be staying here long then, Mr . . . ?”
Gwen thought she saw the dragon raise an eyebrow. “My name is too complicated—”
“Try me!” shouted Bim.
The dragon ignored this challenge. “For you to say, I think. Now, however, I am more interested in time, than in names.”
“Well, it’s probably around two o’clock,” Gwen said for lack of anything else.
The dragon shook his head. “No, I meant the time I have to leave, before others of your kind see me, before others like you become angry and things become,” he paused, “unfriendly.”
Bim leaned in close. “Where’re you going?”
“I have not yet decided, but I may be too late.” He was looking past them. Gwen and Bim turned to see several police cars and fire trucks heading their way. The dragon took one claw and plucked two scales from his shoulder. He held the scales out to them. Bim eagerly grabbed his, but Gwen was too taken aback. She didn’t understand how the dragon could hold anything as thin and small as a scale, and she was afraid that if she touched him, she’d be burned. But Bim happily clasped his scale with both hands. Gwen held her arm out and cringed. “What am I supposed to do with it?” she asked.
“As long as you have it,” the dragon said, “you can not be left behind.”
Gwen closed her fingers around the scale. It was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and it was slightly smaller than her palm. “What do you mean—left behind?”
But before she could consider any answer, the three of them were gone.