James and the Wishing Dragon
Late afternoon and bitterly cold: that was the climate where James Canton, who was fourteen years old and very smart for his age, was wading through two feet of snow without decent boots. How many times had he done this? And how many times did he have to hear his Aunt yell at him for coming home with soaking tennis shoes? Too many to count, by his reckoning. Sometimes James just wanted to run away.
Now was one of those times. School had let out because the boiler that heated the building went out again and now he was wondering why his Aunt did not buy him a better coat so he didn't freeze. James' teeth chattered. Crunch went the snow under his feet.
"Oomph!" James had just tripped himself on a rock, buried beneath the snow. "Oh geez! Now I'm gonna get it!" He picked himself up carefully, trying not to aggravate the tear in his pants' knee cap even more. Auntie's gonna kill me, he moaned and dropped his head sourly.
"And now I'm bleeding!" His eyes had fixed on a blotch of red in the snow that seemed to trail off to the right. It may not have been me, he thought happily. But it was still someone's. Maybe someone was hurt? James' mind raced with different possibilities and their outcomes, all the while muttering that he was gonna get it from his Auntie.
If someone was hurt though, wouldn't that be worth the beating for being late and wet? Possibly if he helped someone, his Aunt would be proud for a change… He doubted that very much and didn't think She would take the time to listen to the child's story in the first place. But still, James Canton couldn't just pass by without seeing what was up; even if it was just to satisfy his curiosity, he had to find out what was up.
The boy took the bloody path to the right, following the blotches up and down a snow drift. Come on, he thought. Where are you? James followed the path for a full half-hour. He was growing tired and was now more afraid than ever of what his Aunt would do to him. If he turned around right now, it would still be forty-five minutes until he got home. She wouldn't even let him have any dinner.
"Rrrrrrgh." The sound was almost so quiet that James didn't hear it. It was a soft moaning, painful sounding to him. "Rrrrrrgh—" something coughed from the bushes. James moved in silently, trying very hard not to crunch the snow any louder. The noise didn't sound human to him. He thought it could very well be a dog or something.
"Hello," he cooed softly. "Is there anyone in there?" He was only a foot from the bush's outer fringe of foliage. The groaning stopped for a moment and then resumed even quieter than it had been. James ceased his movement, afraid that he might scare whatever was in the bush away. "Hello?"
"Rrrrrrgh…" It coughed again and then whimpered slightly. James parted the brambles. It growled and he jumped back, landing hard on his bum. This wasn't at all what James Canton expected to find.
The thing was certainly not a dog of any breed he'd ever seen. It was hairless, except for a tuft of white on its head and on the end of a thick, trunk-like tail. The creature's skin was a deep azure color that faded to an off white at its feet. And its feet, more like claws from what he could tell, were that of a dog mixed with cruel, curved talons. They accented its overall appearance quite well, James thought.
But it didn't move. James had not noticed it, but the thing looked at him with a sort of puzzlement that one only sees in an intelligent creature. It was almost longing for James to come over and talk to it.
Instead, though, James stayed right where he was and only mumbled out the first question that came to his mind: "What are you?" The monster only groaned again, a longing sort of groan that meant it wanted to answer James's question. The foliage had not been broken apart by James's startlement in reaction to the creature's appearance, so he still had a full view of it.
Again, the thing moaned and then tried to crawl out of the bush. It didn't get far because it stopped as soon as it saw James trying to sneak away. A sharp bark pierced the night, catching the human's attention and turning it back toward the monster. It didn't want James to go.
"What's the matter?" James asked with trepidation. He thought he had heard it speak for a moment. "Did you just call my name?" The thing barked again and James jumped. "You did speak? It wasn't English though."
The monster shook its head sadly and laid it back down in the snow. Its amber colored eyes were still looking at James longingly. "Mrrrmm. Arp!" It wanted him to come to him. "Grrrp?"
"I wish you could speak," James muttered to himself. He had scooted over to the monster unknowingly. "Then at least I could talk to someone." The creature yelped and groaned again, this time happily.
"Thank you! It is about bloody time someone wished me to speak!" James didn't think anything of the creatures talking to him. He was thinking of how he was going to explain his torn pants to his Aunt and how to explain about his wet shoes. "My old master," the monster continued, "was a real swine. He made me do the most awful things—Hello? Child?"
"Huh? Oh—Ack!" In a rather quick and humorous display, James had scrambled away as fast as he could to put about two yards of snow between him and the talking thingamabob. "Holy geez! Auntie's really gonna kill me now!" How was he going to explain that thing?
"Oh, do not worry child," the creature said soothingly. "I do not eat children." It chortled to itself, mildly amused. "Would you do me a favor child—" James didn't reply—"Could you wish that I was healed?" The rasp in its voice was unnerving to James.
"W—why?" He wasn't sure he could trust it. How did he know the monster wouldn't eat him? It may pounce on James the instant it could. "How can I trust y—you?"
"I promise, I will not hurt you," it told him. The voice sounded truthful, and human. It was like it was coming from a tape recorder behind the bush. "All you have to do is wish it. That is what I do. I grant wishes to my masters."
"Oh… Alright," James supposed. "I wish you weren't hurt." A loud snap emanated from the creature's hind quarters and then it stood. The wish-granter paced around the area, moving it's back leg in circles while it was off the ground and then returning it and putting on some pressure. "Is that better?"
"That was a good wish. The cuts on the bottom of my feet are gone too." He ambled over to where James was sitting, sniffing about with its wedge shaped head. "What is your name, child? I am thinking it is James Canton. Your parents were killed when you were three and now you live with a cruel Aunt named Karen."
"How did you know that!" The child was in awe. He hadn't said a word about anything of that sort. He didn't even know when his parents were killed. Maybe the thing could read minds too?
"It was a car accident on a trip to Germany," the thing said, putting a much more kind looking paw on James's shoulder. "I could only tell you that because you are my new master. Whatever you desire, wish it and I will grant it."
"Are you a genie?"
"No, little one. That is far too fairy tale-ish to be possible." Then what was he? Was it even a he? Were there more of them in the world? "I am a wishing dragon from far out of your world, child." He paused, appraising the coatless, soaking shoed child. "What can I do for you, James?"
James knew what it was thinking. It wanted him to wish for a jacket so he wouldn't be so cold. And for some snow boots to keep his feet warm. "What would you… I wish for a winter jacket and a pair of snow boots."
"Ah. Anything else?"
"And that I was wearing them already."
"Now you are thinking. Granted." The dragon gave James what he considered to be a smile. "Do you feel any warmer?" James nodded and gave his thanks to the wish-granter. The coat really was quite warm. And his feet were no longer soggy.
Now what next? The boy wondered briefly if the dragon was planning on following him home, or if it was going to go somewhere else to sleep and eat. His Aunt wouldn't let him have a pet. She barely let him have a place to sleep himself. "Where are you going to sleep tonight," he voiced.
"I cannot abandon my master," the dragon said, smiling. "I am absolutely sure you can think of something to wish for that would conceal me." James's first thought was wishing that his Aunt would turn into a cockroach, but that wouldn't have been right and proper for him to do.
"What would you suggest," James asked, standing. He was only a few feet taller than the dragon at his feet. It only shrugged in response to his query. "Why not? Is it against some sort of rule?"
"We cannot grant our own wishes," it said sadly, almost ashamedly. It then sighed and continued pacing around. "It was made that way so we would not grow too greedy or powerful. It keeps us from making ourselves deities. I could not give you a suggestion even if I had one."
"Oh." James was silent for a few minutes, trying to think of a good wish that could hide his dragonish companion. Some way to hide him from Auntie…How was he to do it? He could wish that only James could see it. Or that just his Aunt couldn't see it. And he wanted to be specific. James had read stories before where people made wishes that weren't specific and ended up making the world a terrible place to live.
James would be more specific. He would wish that the dragon would not be seen or heard by his Aunt or anyone else that hated him. He said this, the dragon blinked out of existence for a brief moment and then winked back in telling James that it was done. The dragon also told him that that was a good wish and that it would prevent people from finding out about him if they wanted to separate them.
"I should go home," James said, noticing that the sky had turned red with the setting sun. "Auntie's already going to want to kill me. And how am I going to explain a new coat?" The dragon winked at him, sending an invisible message. James caught on quite well and made the wish: "I wish that Auntie wouldn't be able to tell that I got a new coat and boots."
"Very well done," the monster said, still glad to be able to speak. "Now climb on my back and I shall take us home."
James clamored onto its back and the two set off, following James's directions. As they walked, it occurred to James that the dragon was quite warm to the touch. He dismissed it though, thinking that was just a product of all the wishing he'd been doing. But it was a nice feeling in all the cold weather. When they had finally reached James' home, he was not all together glad to climb down off his dragon's back. But he did and the two made their way inside. But not before wishing that his Aunt wouldn't yell at him that night.
He went to bed without dinner that night. James could have wished for some food, but the dragon seemed to be tired from all the work he'd been doing and was not really up to it despite what he would say. The creaky, little bed that served James was only big enough for him, but he took the liberty of pulling off some of the few blankets he had and making a sort of basket for the creature to sleep in.
As of present, the two were their respective sleeping areas, talking. "Do you have a name," James asked it. "You can't go through life without a name." He rolled over in his "bed" and looked the creature straight in the eye. It was a kindly looking thing, but it looked like it had seen some things that made it more sedate than he should have been. James noticed that.
"Wishing dragons do not have names where I come from," it replied. "My last master thought I was nothing more than a pet. That's always how we have been treated, but Master took it to the point where he wished I barked instead of talked." The blankets around him rustled a bit with the memory, but not very.
"He isn't your master any more, though. You should have a name." He should have something. It isn't right for people to not have an identity. "You have to be called something, anyway. How do others identify you?"
"They do not. It is as simple as that." Did it even want a name to begin with? James pondered over this for a while. The dragon didn't seem to be nearly as enthusiastic as he. He still looked tired, but he seemed comfortable under the covers of the makeshift basket. At first it seemed that he was a cheery creature, but now James couldn't be sure. "What is the matter, James Canton?"
The question startled him. He hadn't expected him to speak any more that night. Regaining his rather tainted composure, James replied. "I was wondering why you seem to be so stony. Why don't you cheer up a bit? That old master of yours isn't coming back is he?"
"She is still alive and will come looking for me." It said this with the tone of a frustrated school teacher who is trying to teach a naughty student. That especially didn't sound comforting to James. But the dragon continued unabashed. "It was made long ago that my kind were not to be 'happy' creatures. Our lines have been reduced to near extinction and the masters of our home have become increasingly cruel. What is there to be 'happy' about?"
"I wish that you were really you," James wished. "The you before you were made so cold; like when you laughed just when I found you." The dragon snorted and twitched its tail about under the blankets. "In fact, I wish you were the you before your worst master."
"I was too wild before my masters," it said before granting the boy's wish. "But I am obligated to serve you well and in your own interests. Because of that, I should warn you that when I was young I was too cheerful."
"How do mean?"
"I will ask that you undo this wish."
"Alright," the boy conceded dejectedly. "But please try to be more like what you were when I wished that you would speak. I liked that." It wouldn't do to be stuck with someone who was so distant. James thought he had been more at home in the snow than inside as well. Maybe that had something to do with it?
"I will try."
"I wish you would, Ice."
The next day…
A cold wetness had been licking at James' face for the past five minutes. It was accompanied by a warm breath and two bright amber eyes greeted the child when he opened his own eyes. It was his dragon, trying to be cheerful.
"Why did you call me 'Ice' last night," it asked, climbing down off of James. "It did something. I do not know what, but it did do something to me." Its voice was entirely altered from the previous evening. It seemed younger, more chipper than it had been. It was just like it was when the dragon had spoke.
"Ice? I thought that would be a good name for you." He pushed himself out of his rickety old bed and stood, feet slightly cold from the floorboards. The dragon sat before him, looking up with a grateful expression. "You seem to be feeling better today, at least."
"I feel wonderful. Whatever you wished for last night had an amazing affect on me. I feel younger, like when I was just a pup on Florobot! I feel like I could give you a thousand wishes!" He started pacing. "I need to get out and do something. I have not had this much energy in me since before I went into service!"
James crouched down low to get on eye level with the creature. It beamed back at him, eyes aglow. "Do you wanna come to school with me then?" It was a foolish thing to ask, but James didn't care. He had not many friends at the educational center and Ice would be better than nothing. "Should I call you Ice? Or what would you prefer?"
"Ice will do well, I think. It makes sense." That was good news to James. He liked the name, which was why he called the dragon by it. So it was settled. The dragon's name was Ice, and he would come with James to the school that day to keep him company.
"I should get ready. Where's that coat?" James asked. Ice winked, a smile creeping across his muzzle. James knew what he was thinking. It was quite easily the simplest thing to do. "I wish my new coat and boots were on me." James didn't even feel it when the coat slipped over his arms and buttoned itself. "I could get used to that."
"Do not do it too often. It is never good to wish for the mundane."
For a moment, James almost thought that he was changing back into the aloof form that he had met the previous evening. He needn't have worried though. James would learn later that Ice would sometimes give him warnings in that mysterious and grave tone of voice. But he would always go back to the "overly" cheerful attitude that James liked to see.
The boy grabbed his knapsack and looked out his window. The snow on the ground had a glittering effect because of the sun. But it was cold. James tightened his coat around him. "Come on, Ice." The pair slipped out the front door of the house unnoticed by James' Aunt.
"On my back," Ice commanded. "Quickly now, before my paws freeze." Once the human was on his back, Ice continued in a northerly direction, following James's instructions on how to get to the school. "Are you going to try and hide me this time, James?"
"I probably should, shouldn't I?" People would be staring all day and would probably want to separate the two. He wondered briefly how to do it and still keep him near. Wishing him to be invisible wouldn't necessarily mean that he wouldn't take up any space. He would have to be smaller too. Pocket-sized almost.
Ice had stopped in back of a large bush only a hundred yards from the school. "Are you ready," he asked, aware of the number of students who attended. James climbed off his back and stared at him for a minute, then nodded. "What is it then?
"I wish you could fit in my pocket." Just like when he was healed, Ice flashed out of sight and a split second later he was back where he was, only a fraction of his original size. James stooped over and put his hand onto the ground for Ice to climb up on. He was light, James decided. "You don't mind going in my pocket for the day, do you?"
In reply, Ice jumped from his hand to his breast pocket and slid in comfortably well. "I am quite comfortable, thank you. I shall remain here unless you want me to come out." His voice was shallower, like it was coming through a vacuum. "Remember that I told you my master will come looking for me."
"Your old master," James corrected, and then headed into the school. But he would remember. He would keep an eye open and an ear tuned for anything out of the norm. And Ice would keep his senses keen as well. James still didn't have any sort of clue of what made Ice's former master so cruel or why he was so afraid of the old hag. But he would still listen and watch, if anything for his new comrade.
Quite to James's surprise, the first half of his day went quite smoothly. Ice was keeping himself well hidden in his little pocket, and had hardly made any noise except to James once in a long while. No one could have known that he was there. Even if someone had seen Ice, they might have mistaken him for a clay figurine.
As per his usual traditions, James sat alone at lunch. He took a small bag from his knapsack and then proceeded to a secluded location under the bleachers in the school's gym. No one ever looked for him back there, and hardly anyone knew that there was a way to get under the seats in the first place. It was in this spot that he let Ice out of his pocket and wished him to a normal size.
"It was not as bad as I thought it would be in that pocket," Ice commented, stretching and then yawning in the doggish fashion. He looked around at the underside of the bleachers and then curled up next to James while he ate his lunch.
"Do you want anything?" James asked, putting a hand on the dragon's neck. "I've got enough sandwich for two and we can split the orange." He tore off a piece of turkey sandwich and gave it to Ice, who ate it greedily as if it hadn't had any food for a long time. He probably hasn't eaten for a long time. "I wish you had a helping of whatever food you want."
Ice looked up at him, grinning with only the base of his fangs showing. Instantly, two bowls appeared in front of him and he began lapping up the sustenance with his tongue. He gave a muffled thanks to James before starting in on the second bowl. They both finished their lunches.
"I could stay here for a while," James remarked, sometime later. He had been lying on his back with his head propped up on Ice's side. It had been maybe ten minutes since lunch ended, but the two did not want to get up. "I think this is a nice place to stay for now."
"Agreed," Ice replied. He too had found a comfortable position, and didn't mind in the slightest if James used him as a pillow. The food had also done wonders for his exhaustion. Ice had still been tired after a night's rest, like he was permanently drowsy. But after a meal he was as good as new.
Occasionally they heard footsteps and Ice's ears would perk up and his body would grow tense, but it always faded away. It reminded James of Ice's previous owner. "Why did you run from your last master," James decided to ask. "Was she really that evil?"
"She had three of us in shackles. They were my brothers." James sat up at the sudden chill running through the dragon's veins. "She forced us to kill her enemies and subjugate the rest of her world. Every person there is now alive only to serve her whims. No one has any freedom."
"You have family? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I am the only one of my kind with family." James thought that he looked depressed now. His two brothers were enslaved and being used in the most heinous of crimes: Slavery. "The three of us once belonged to the true Emperor. Now he is gone and my two brothers are trapped by their chains. All three of us must be together for her to hold power. So they helped me escape and sent me to find a new master who would help us."
"You want my help?" James didn't know what to say to that. He was only a child, not fit to lead a flea circus. "I don't know what I could do." James felt a paw on his shoulder, and then Ice's warm breath. He was asking for his help.
"All you need to do is wish it." That was all? The boy didn't believe it. He would have to do something totally out of his mind. But Ice was his friend. James had to help him. Besides, he could imagine what it would have been like to have brothers. James pictured himself getting hazed by them a little, but imagined quite a few good times in his head.
"Just wish it," he asked. "All I have to do is wish it?"
"We must be there with my brothers out of their shackles," Ice responded. "But that can be accomplished by means of wishing. My former master's power has already weakened from not having all of us, so you may be able to wish them out."
"Then what're we waiting for?"
"I wish we were in your world, Ice." James had hopped up on Ice's back, ready for a jolt. His arms were wrapped tight around the dragon's neck, and his knees were squeezing hard so he would not fall of when they lurched into Ice's world. But instead of a hard blow, James felt a slight breeze around him and then they both blinked out and back into a different environment.
They had jumped to a courtyard in the middle of what looked to be a palace. The lawn of the enclosure was well kept and cut short with poplars around the circumference and a fountain in the center. Despite the park-like lawn, however, the place was not at all pleasant. The whole place was tinted a deathly red color and the sky shown a harsh orange, like it was caught in the fires of Hell and then preserved by some demonic illusion. The cold air only served to frighten James Canton even more.
"The Enchantress's power is fading," Ice commented in a reverent tone. "This courtyard was totally barren when last I saw it. And the Sun has come up from the south!" James looked straight ahead to find a vaporous blend of coloration. "Alashtim," Ice muttered. "Alashtim, we have come to wake you."
The earth rumbled beneath them in reply. Abruptly the Sun changed its color from crimson to a brilliant bluish glory. James could not raise his voice above a whisper. "What's going on, Ice?" he asked, surprised he was able to speak at all. "What is Alashtim?"
"Alashtim is the star that gives us life, James. My old master put him to sleep and faked his light with a false sun in the East. Since I have been gone, that false sun has been destroyed and Alashtim is waking."
"What happens when he does wake?"
"We shall see."
James felt it was high time that he clambered down off of Ice's back and stood for himself. He did so and was shocked by how light he was and by the vibrations coursing through the stones below him. James put a tentative hand on the ground to feel the quivering world more clearly.
James… Welcome, son of Beondis, heir to the thrown of my creation. James lifted his hand, and then ever so gently lowered it again. You have questions, child. And soon you will have answers to them, son of Beondis.
"Ice," he pondered, "who was Beondis?"
"Alashtim! He spoke!" Ice bent his head to the ground, putting an ear close to the earthen floor. "Yes—yes! I hear him. Alashtim is waking! And you are the Heir? I knew you were my master, James."
"Heir to what? I'm just a kid."
"To the thrown of your father. When my former master took this world, you were sent to Earth to save you from her." The child was staggering. This was quite a lot for him to take in. His father and mother weren't humans? They were really from this world? A place of magic and wizardry, of the wishing dragons and a living Sun? "I was told by my brothers to find you and bring you back."
James Canton. You are home.
"Back on me, James. We are here on a mission," Ice decreed. James did so at the advice of his friend. "Through those walls is…"
"Me." A calm, female-ish voice penetrated the air over the dull humming of Alashtim. Ice turned to face her, his former master. A look of disgust crossed her supple face. She was a woman of beauty, of the kind only imaginable by the most fantastic of dreamers. Her dimensions were voluptuous, a curving waist down to the center of an hourglass and then back to her hips. She took care of her appearance, and her face was framed in locks of silvery blond hair.
She banged her staff. "Mutt," she said distastefully at Ice. "Go back to your cell while I take care of this thing." A pleasantly cool breeze proceeded from the direction opposite her. "And then I shall take care of Alashtim for the last time."
Ice growled angrily. "I am not your pet or your tool. I bring with me the Heir of Beondis, the Heir of Alashtim's creation." He paced with James on his back, staring at the evil, but stunningly beautiful woman in the white robes. "James, I am yours to command."
For a moment, he did not know what was going on. At his rear was a bright blue Sun that he learned was actually the creator of Ice's world and at his front was the most incredible creature he had seen. He knew she was vile to the core, and he knew what had to be done. It was like Ice said: this was a free world. James had to make his wish.
"Ice," he said slowly, still staring at the woman. The witch raised her staff, pointing the end of it at him. "I wish your brothers were not under her control any longer." James was thrown back against a wall of the courtyard violently. The wind had been knocked out of him, leaving him without any words. He gasped for more air, barely getting any.
"You shall be shackled again," she said. "And you shall be mine as well, boy."
You will not harm him, a Voice thundered. He is the heir to my creation.
"Alashtim! I set you once, I'll do it again!" Again, the enchantress elevated her staff, aiming behind James. "Elon idasmeat! Down!" The light did not fade. "Elon idasmeat," she cried again. Still nothing happened.
"Ice," James called, finally finding his breath. "I wish that she—" he stood erect now, pointing vigorously at the witch—"would have no power anywhere here or on any other world there could possibly be! I wish your brothers to be free from their cages." James had not known he possessed that kind of booming voice. It was as if the very fabric of space was speaking through him.
Two other dragons, one white and one green, came running into the enclosure, shouting with glee to see their brother. "Brothers," Ice said, silencing them. The witch's staff shattered in her hands, making her stumble. "Brothers," Ice said again, "that is Beondis's son! That is our master! It is time for us to grant his wish, brothers."
"We pledge ourselves, Master!" the green dragon called to James, who had not yet noticed them. "What is your command, Sire? We are here to serve!"
"I wish this world was Free!" The voice from the earth had not ceased using James. The child, who only a night before was afraid of his Aunt shouting at him, now stood with the aura of total authority and an air royalty about him. He would be changed forever after this moment. And he knew it too. Deep down in the subconscious mind of his, James knew what was next. "I wish for Alashtim to awake to his full power once again and that his dominion would not be challenged as long as time itself exists!"
The breeze from the South had whipped itself into a gale by now. Yet James turned to face the azure Sun behind him and looked it directly in the face. A dazzling burst of daylight filled every inch of his vision and the Enchantress behind him evaporated, screaming from the blinding glory of Alashtim's gleam.
The flash faded, leaving a paler blue light to warm the realm. James collapsed, as did Ice and the two brothers, exhausted as one could ever imagine. But one was still standing; an old man in old gray robes stood above James. "Child," he said, lifting James into his arms. He did the same for Ice and his brothers and took them inside the palace.
The old man smiled as he found them all something soft to lie on. "Child. You served me well. The planet you call earth is not your home. This is. You are the rightful ruler of this domain. And as such, these dragons are yours."
James was just barely conscious of what the man was saying. But he knew who it was. This was a physical embodiment of Alashtim, the living Sun and life of this place. James smiled up at him weakly.
"I will grant you this one," Alashtim told him warmly. "Make your wish, child. It shall be so."
"I wish this wasn't a dream," he said. "I'm gonna miss Ice when I wake up. Can't I just fall into a coma and never wake?" He asked this sincerely, though he expected Alashtim to scold him for it. Instead, however, Alashtim put an old, weathered hand on James' forehead.
"James Canton," he declared, as if he was speaking to an entire world, which indeed he was. The earth rumbled again, pulsing gleefully with every sound uttered by Alashtim's mouth. "This is not a dream." With that, Alashtim disappeared unceremoniously. He did not flash out or fade or dissolve in a cloud of smoke, he just vanished into thin air without a sound.
Ice was lying next James, with his tail curved under James's neck to form a pillow for him. He too was just barely conscious of the past events. "James," he said in his dragonishly human voice, "that was a good wish."