Behind my house within walking distance is a big, beautiful hill. I fell in love with it growing up as a child years ago. I would look to the hill many times a day, studying its mossy spots; its hairy, golden veins; and the muddy flecks that mimicked a scattering of bulbous rocks. Because of the hill, I learned to adore the evening sunset for unusual reasons no one would ever believe. Not because the red sun dyed the hump of my hill a dark maroon when the two appeared to touch. And not because of the way the sky mixed rosy and smoky clouds together as they reached down from above…or up from below—it was hard to say which way they swirled to spread as sheer as a veil. No, the reason I loved the sunset enough to watch it faithfully every night, either from up on the rooftop or from a private spot in the cattails near the creek below my house, was because that beautiful hill showed me twice in a night the same marvelous sunset.
First upside up. And then upside down.
Please don’t laugh. The sun did indeed set twice in a night for me. My mother would laugh whenever I tried to convince her it was true. More than once I persuaded her to sit and watch, directing her eyes to a small rise attached to the steeper hill next to it. When the final red tinge of sun vanished completely and the world went dark, I would look to the lesser rise, knowing a red sun would manifest itself once again on its rugged face.
“Look, Mama, look! You will see it! The sun will show itself again, it will! And it will set upside down—I’m not lying!”
But no matter how long she waited, her patience was never long enough. “Silly girl,” she would say. “I see nothing but stars.”
“But it’s true, Mama! The sun will show itself again if you wait.”
And she did wait.
But it didn’t show in all that time.
“It must be an illusion,” she finally decided, believing her daughter would not lie. “Perhaps the moon reflects the sun onto that rise on rare nights.”
“On every night, Mama,” I corrected.
Her smile was playful and doubtful at the same time. She then walked away sighing, “Oh, silly girl.”
Alone I would wait until, as faithfully as ever, the red sun appeared on the smaller rise, divided by a vertical wisp of black. Slowly, surely, it sank upside down until it disappeared.
And so it was I grew to be a young woman in love with a magical hill—for that is the logical conclusion I drew at its repeating of an upturned sunset each night for my eyes only. Mother, though she never witnessed the miracle, labeled it an illusion. I dubbed it magic. For what else could explain a single sun setting twice within a span of minutes, and topsy-turvy at that? I will admit there were occasions when I stood on my head in the grass, feet propped high against the trunk of an oak tree, in order to see the second sunset properly. Never with Mother nearby. For she would surely gasp and say, “How terribly unladylike!”
One cloudy evening, only a few sunsets after my seventeenth birthday, I was nearing my quiet spot amongst the cattails by the creek when something stirred in my stomach. It felt awful. At the same time, I glimpsed a figure move within the cattails, but I had no idea if what I’d find there would prove as awful as my stomach’s uneasiness seemed to anticipate. For those who doubt, I emphatically insist that it is a wise rule to listen to your stomach. It has an uncanny sense about the reality of things. On this particular occasion I failed to heed that uncomfortable warning and continued cautiously forward to my spot within the cluster of tall cattails. My stomach did a somersault when a very large man stepped out into the open and faced me. He was smiling in a manner that could never—even by the most naïve minds—be mistaken for friendly.
I turned to run back to the house, but I was grabbed by the man who lunged at me with the speed of a cobra. He yanked my body to him. When my lungs filled with air, preparing to scream, he stifled the sound with a firm hand, smothering my face. Desperate to breath, I tried in vain to pry his fingers away. He dragged me into the cattails before slipping his hand down off my nose, allowing me to draw in oxygen but still barring any ability to scream. As the man growled in my ear, insensible words dripping with malice, I feared for my life.
“They thought they could hide you from me, that I wouldn’t detect your putrid stench out here in the middle of nowhere. But I swore to them I’d hunt you down—every last one of you. So far I’ve kept my word. I’ve diminished your numbers and robbed you of those abominable service creatures. And I never stopped searching for you, young one—in caves and deserts and every other inhospitable corner of existence. I even bribed the vagrant sailors of pirate ships, thinking they might find you in transport when your superiors finally decided to call you overseas. But no—you’re not quite old enough to be summoned yet. So I’ll kill you now as I did the others. I’ll end your life before it becomes my misfortune. When you’re dead, I’ll wait here for your service creatures to show their vile forms, and then I will slay them as well.”
I was sucking in air through my nose while these words hit my ear, void of meaning. Nothing he said made the least amount of sense to me. Surely, he had mistaken me for a hostile individual capable of causing him torment.
I was no one to fear. No one at all.
His fingers clamped down over my nose once again as if he meant to suffocate the life out of me. I fought him with all my might, knowing my struggles were futile; his strength far surpassed my own. My eyes flickered back at the hill I loved so much as if to say “goodbye,” at which time I caught a peculiar sight. Two suns were visible at once—one red orb hanging above the hill and a second orb aglow on the face of the lower rise. I thought, perhaps, that my senses were being impaired by lack of oxygen.
When the ground quaked beneath my feet, it seemed as if the planet itself had chosen to come to my rescue. The tremors managed to pull the grassy footing from beneath my assailant. He tumbled over and his hands flailed outward, releasing me. Coughing and gasping for air, I scrambled to get away from him, deterred by the shaking ground until it suddenly ceased. My eyes darted from the grass to my beloved hill, only to find that it was gone. The setting sun hung low in the sky over a completely flat horizon!
I was about to flee for home, more concerned for self-preservation than the miraculous disappearance of an entire hill, when the man shrieked, making my eyes turn back to him. My body slowly followed suit, astounded by what my eyes were registering.
My would-be killer was on the ground looking up into the face of an ominous, hovering beast kept aloft by giant wings. The body of the creature was humped, covered in mossy spots and hairy, golden veins and muddy, bulbous flecks that resembled exactly the missing hill. It dawned on me that the low rise normally sitting adjacent to the hill was the beast’s head. I knew this without a doubt because a red eye glared from the side of its head, mimicking the sun at dusk. I gasped, realizing my beloved hill was in actuality a dragon! My topsy-turvy sunset wasn’t at all a second sunset but a dragon’s bright eye which opened up each and every evening to look out at the world before vanishing under dragon eyelids.
I wondered, was this beast a service creature like those the vile man had muttered about in my ear? There would be no asking him, for he was swallowed whole by the beast in question, scarcely able to let out a final shriek.
The dragon’s face turned to stare at me full on, revealing two glowing, red eyes. My stomach felt calm, but in my mind I feared this was no service creature but a monster that meant to feed on me as it had the unfortunate man. The dragon made no sudden moves, however, and the sword-like teeth I had glimpsed in its mouth were not shown to me again. The dragon lowered its head. Cautiously I approached, moving just close enough to reach out and touch its snout. As my fingers made contact with the scaly texture of its skin, a waft of swirly, gray smoke puffed from both nostrils, startling me, convincing my feet to scuttle backwards. Its immense body rotated in the air, and I watched in awe as a pair of giant wings took the creature back to its resting place where once again he appeared as a distant hill blocking out the setting sun.
“Thank you,” I breathed as the dragon closed its eyes.
I immediately ran to the house to relay the entire story to my mother who became greatly agitated at my mention of a stranger, and then greatly perturbed at my insistence that a man-eating dragon did indeed live past the creek behind our house. The truth was ultimately labeled an outlandish illusion, and I was informed by my mother that a career in story-telling might very well suit me.
That was all about a year ago today. And I shall never forget the life-changing moment I discovered that the hill I loved was in truth a dragon I loved even more. Now, as I turn eighteen, my stomach twists itself up into knots. I have learned to listen to it, for its predictions have yet to be wrong. I know something is coming. A change in my life and in the world itself. What sort of change, I don’t know. But I am sure it involves me and my dragon. The great beast has awakened for the second time in my young life, but I have no fear. It intends to take me somewhere. Somewhere I am needed. And when my mother sees that I and the great hill behind our house are both gone, she might come to believe in my illusions…..and in dragons.
~ By Richelle E. Goodrich Copyright 2016