Tales of Dragons
Author's Note: The stepmother in this story is similar in some ways to Leevana in Prince of Destiny, but is also inspired by an adorable comic strip by an amateur cartoonist online, where there is a green-skinned witch mother character who does not have to live in hiding in a cave - quite the contrary. She goes about her day to day business without hesitation, and no one in that world bats an eyelid. I like that world a lot better than the one I built for Prince of Destiny. It seems so much fresher and more innocent to me.
It's free choice at school now. I like free choice best. Now I get to do what I like, not what a teacher says. Right now I'm ignoring the other kids chattering and arguing, and the scraping of chairs, and I'm making a paper cobweb. It's not too hard, you snip away at a folded sheet of paper and if you do it right, you open it out, and presto, a cobweb. It had become a paper cobweb. Sticking a fuzzball to a piece of felt is easier. This is how to make a spider.
"What are you doing?" asks Sabina. She's sidled over and is gazing at me with curious, black eyes.
"I'm making something for my stepmother. It's only fair. She usually has a present for me."
"You think she likes spiders?"
"My stepmother's a witch," I tell her.
"That's mean. You shouldn't say that," said Sabine, gazing steadily at me.
"Well she is. Lucille is a witch." Sabine hasn't seen my stepmother. If she had, perhaps her green skin would have given her a clue. And the fact that she is so weird...
She's waiting for me in the playground at half past three. I can see her a mile away with her bright green skin, even if wasn't wearing a canary yellow top and blue shorts today.
She grins at me. Her teeth look very white in her green face.
"Hello, darling." She steps forward, arms outstretched. I show her the cobweb and spider.
"Um, for you, Lucille."
"For me?" she grins more broadly and holds up the cobweb and spider. Her brown eyes are shining. "Oh, Sammy, I love it so much. You thoughtful little man…" She hugs me tight, kissing my cheek so that her long red hair gets in my eyes. She always smells strange. Like overripe raspberries. Her face feels cold, even on a warm day.
She kneels on the asphalt and grips my shoulders. She's smiling into my face. Her lips are dark green. They're almost black. "How about we go for a treat. Just you and me?"
On the way back, we go into a small, dingy café called the Witch's Parlour. It doesn't look very magical.
She buys a bowl of what looks like blue ice cream. It's sticky and tastes like bubble gum.
"Cob web goo – don't eat too fast or you may get trapped," she says, her grin lighting up her face. "Look, you get a free gift." She holds up a green plastic skull. The skull has little bloodshot eyes and spider legs attached.
"Why does the skull have legs?" I ask.
Lucille picks it up and turns it over, pursing her dark green lips. "Hmm. I bet he got in the way of a bad spell."
I suppose a witch would know about stuff like that.
She puts the skull on the table and presses her bright green finger down on it. It scuttles across the table and stops by my bowl. "Weird. The skull moved. Does that count as magic?"
I've finished the goo, so I'm going to show Lucille my reading folder. She can see the cover of the book through the clear plastic. "Look, it's like a sequel to Hansel and Gretel when they're grown up. But it's long. It's written for people who can actually read."
Lucille pouts, cupping her face in her hands and sticking out her dark green lips. "That story is bat turd crazy. They shouldn't be giving you rubbish like that."
Of course. Lucille must hate Hansel and Gretel. She's a witch, and the story makes out that witches are horrible. Why didn't I think of that?
"Uh… the sequel says that there are good witches as well. It – It's not like the fairy story."
She flicks a strand of her red hair over her shoulder. "Fairy stories. Pfft. Just wait, darling. I've got something much better for you. A facsimile of witch stories. They're better than fairy stories."
"An exact reproduction, Sammy. They look just like they did when they were first written. And our stories tell you what you need to know, they don't fill your head with rubbish, the way these fairy stories do."
"Witch stories are good ones? Not fairy stories?"
She smiles, still cupping her face in her hands. "Yes, dearest. They are. Maybe I'm biased."
I grin at her. "You're biased."
"Oh yes?" She pulls a face at me, scrunching her shiny green nose.
"I think so." I pull a face right back at her.
"Cheeky boy." She leans across the table and we rub our noses together because we're feeling silly. Her skin is very smooth and sort of slippery.
I'm curious. What are her stories like? Witchier than fairy tales? "I want to hear your stories. I think you'd know a good story."
She grins, showing off how white teeth are and how you notice it more because of her green face. "Thank you, darling. That means a lot to me."
Lucille says I should have a snack when we get in, so she makes peanut butter and blackcurrant jam on bread. She sprinkles some jelly beetles on it as well. These were something she brought with her when she moved in. They move around a bit when they're first out of the jar, but afterwards, they're like gummy bears.
Now she wants to read. She sits next to me on the couch and slips an arm around me. She opens a heavy, leather-bound book, so we can both see the pages. This close, the witch's weird smell is distracting.
The story she's chosen is about a witch who went on an adventure and found a kingdom with this really horrible king. He'd killed a lot of people and there were bodies all over the beach when the witch arrived. She discovered the king was really a dreadful dragon in disguise.
I look at the illustration of the dragon sloughing off his human disguise, like a snake sheds its skin. "I didn't know dragons could do that."
"Oh, but they can." Lucille's brown eyes are wide. "It can be very difficult to spot a dragon in disguise. One way is to look at their eyes. Sometimes the pupils will glow, like burning coals."
"Is that all, Lucille?"
"Their spit will be scarlet, but that doesn't show much when they're in disguise. They might have a reddish tinge on their teeth, but it wouldn't show much."
"So, if you can tell from their eyes and teeth if they're dragons and you should catch them?"
Lucille grimaces. "Dragons are really vicious when they're cornered. They use poison too."
"You're afraid of them, Lucille? Well don't worry. I'd save you there was a dragon here."
She throws back her head and laughs loudly at that. Her laugh is really shrill. "Oh, Sammy, you're so cute."
I'm giggling now. I climb onto her lap, making her drop the book and grab her shoulders as she grins at me. "I'd save my step-mother if she needed me."
Lucille puts her arms around me. "Of course you would, my brave little man." We rub our noses together.
I hear the door. That means Dad's home. We both go into the hall and Lucille throws her arms around him and kisses him.
"I didn't get the promotion," says Dad. Dad had been going on about a promotion yesterday evening.
"It's alright dear, we'll manage. I've been putting together a plan." Lucille strokes his cheek with the tips of her bright green fingers. "Try to forget about it for now. I'll fix us a great dinner."
She skips off to the kitchen humming a weird tune. Her long red hair ripples and bounces. I almost have to run to keep up with her.
She grins at me when I come into the kitchen. "This whole house is so bright and clean and well decorated. But I need to put myself at ease. So I can cook well."
She takes a poster from the cupboard and unravels it. It shows a cloudy night sky, complete with a sickle moon.
"What's that for, Lucille?"
She smiles. "It makes the kitchen more homely."
"Well it gives it a witchier atmosphere. Here." She hands me a gummy beetle.
Lucille sticks the poster on the wall, then she drapes a black shawl around her shoulders. Now she's taking black candles from another cupboard, humming an eerily soothing tune. The candles burns with bright blue flames.
A black rat climbs in through the window. Oh good, it's one of the witch's familiars. His name is Elvis, and she says he can be my pet as well as her familiar. I pick Elvis up the way Lucille says to, letting him stand in my hands. We take a seat on a stool near the stove.
Lucille beams. "Aw, look, Elvis loves you like I do."
"He's a pretty Elvis."
"You're both pretty."
The witch turns to draw the blinds shut, but there is a clashing of wings, and a dark shape swoops into the kitchen. Great. I don't think. It's another familiar. One I don't like. A talking raven.
"Hurroosh!" The raven speaks in what Dad calls 'an awful, croaking parody of a human voice.'
"Hullo Quoth," says Lucille, drawing the blinds shut so that it's dark except for the candles. She turns back to the stove. The ghostly light of the candles light up her strange, green face and cast flickering shadows on the walls.
"What a neighbourhood this is," croaks the raven. "They'll leave seeds out for the useless little birds, but they never leave raw viscera on platters ready for the corvids. Oh no."
"Charming, as always," says Lucille. I can't see what she's doing with the pot at the stove, but now it's bubbling and giving off clouds of steam.
The raven perched on a high shelf and stared down malevolently. "I bring tidings from your mother. It would seem you failed to meet her expectations when you fell for the charms of a young man who is, dare I say, decidedly unmagical."
Quoth always talks in this strange way. And he gabbles on and on.
"Love is more important than magic," says Lucille. She bites her dark green lip.
The raven hops onto the work surface and begins to chew on a loaf of bread, tearing through the plastic wrapping and the crust and spraying crumbs onto the floor. "Pah. I bet you just fell for his looks and … shall we say, 'his helpless charm?' You'll live to regret it."
What does he mean, 'helpless charm?'
Lucille curls her dark green lip. "If I want a raven's opinion about my love life, I will ask for it. Until then, keep your beak shut about my husband when I'm in earshot. Clear?"
Quoth grumbles and croaks, and then turns his head so that one of his beady little eyes is fixed on me. "I daresay you were embarrassed this afternoon? You were seen with this green misfit, and not a sensible, rosy cheeked lady?"
I start to feel angry. Who's he calling a misfit? "What do you mean? I'm glad Lucille's living here now."
Lucille glares at Quoth. "You hear that? My little boy sticks up for me." Her voice trembles a little. "If you're not going to help, you can clear out."
"Blatant favouritism. The boy and the rat aren't helping either," grumbled the raven. "Blame the birds, we're easy targets." He pushed past the blinds and with a clapping of wings, took off out of the window. Lucille frowns and readjusted the blinds so that the kitchen is dark again.
"Why do you let the stupid bird be so rude to you?" I ask.
Lucille leans down and kisses the top of my head, but does not answer the question. She holds up a small jar close to her face and grins. The spectral light of the strange candles shines off her green nose and cheeks. She lets out her weird, shrill laugh. "Oh, my precious pumpkins will love this." She pours the entire jar into the pot.
Elvis has clambered onto my shoulder. I stand up and tug the witch's shawl. "What's funny, Lucille?"
She smiles down at me "Nothing. It's just that cooking is a wonderful distraction for the mind."
"Why is it a distraction?"
"Cooking just makes me happy. If I have a place to cook that has the right ambience." She gestures around the darkened kitchen.
Finally, the cooking's done. Lucille brings it triumphantly into the living room. The dish is pork, but it tastes a bit spicy.
After dinner we all pile onto the couch to look through an old photo album. Lucille plumps herself down between me and Dad and runs her green fingertips over the album's leather cover as Dad holds it. "An album is so much better than digital pictures on a computer screen. Maybe witches like the feel of books better than computers…" She grins and puts a finger on a photo of me when I lost a baby tooth. I'm smiling and showing off that I'm missing the tooth. "Oohh… you've lost a tooth, Sammy. Look at that smile." She takes the photo from the album and holds it up. "I want to keep it. That smile…"
"I'm missing a tooth," I remind her. I think I'm blushing.
"That's part of the charm," says Lucille, gazing at it enraptured. Witches are strange. Elvis the rat climbs onto my shoulder at this point. Lucille brushes her long red hair away from her face with her other hand. "Elvis agrees with me. He's a rat with good taste."
After that, she squeals at a photo of Dad on a beach. "You look as handsome as our wedding day…" she gives him an embarrassing soppy smile and then she and dad hug and kiss.
Then Lucille wants to see their wedding photo again. But just at that moment, there is a clash of wings in the living room… Oh no. Quoth the raven has turned up. How did he get in?
He alights on the head of the sofa between Dad and Lucille, turning his head to fix a beady little eye on the wedding photo. "Who is that strange, green creature holding your husband's hand, Mistress? She looks out of place in that scene."
Lucille glares at the raven, sticking out her dark green lips in a pout.
Dad looks uncomfortable. "Darling, can't you teach that bird to behave? The rat's no trouble."
Lucille grimaces. "I dunno, maybe if I was a better witch…"
Quoth turned his head to Dad. "Greetings freckled ploughboy. I'm just a bird, so it boggles my mind that you've enchanted a witch." Sometimes Quoth does that thing where he talks like he's from Victorian times or something. What sort of nut makes out that it's just farm workers classes who go out in the sun? I don't know...
"Get out!" Lucille's voice is usually loud, but now it's even louder. She's angry.
Quoth rises into the air with a clash of wings. "Where are the pictures of your true mother, Sammy? Why are they not in the album?" He flies out of the room. Lucille's looking at me. Her brown eyes are wide. She starts to speak, but then bites her lip.
It's later and I'm in bed. Elvis the rat is curled up on my pillow. I can hear Dad and Lucille talking in their room. But Lucille's voice is much more penetrating than Dad's, so I can only hear her:
"How can I say bad things to him about his mother… he's such a sweet boy…"
"No, I know, but you want me to explain to him? I'm not sure that's right…"
"OK, darling, I'll try."
Lucille's coming in. I sit up. The witch sweeps into my little bedroom. She's wearing a long, black nightdress. Her red hair glints in the dim light of the moon shaped night light she gave me.
"Alright, Sammy?" She smiled, but then she bites her lip and wrings her green hands together. Is she nervous about something?
She sits beside me and puts an arm around my shoulder. Her long red hair tickles my cheek and her strange smell gets up my nose. "Listen, Sammy… dearest… I don't really know what to say…"
"You wanted to say something bad about Mum?"
She stares at me. Her brown eyes are wide.
I think I should explain that I heard her. "I can hear you very easily, but Dad isn't so loud."
She chuckles. "I suppose I am a bit loud. Listen, you're a clever boy, and I can – I can tell you things…" She sighs. "People can love each other, but then, people can change. No… this isn't particularly relevant."
"Why not?" I ask.
"Listen to me, Sammy… good people can do things that are wrong… possibly… I don't know why, but there it is…"
"Do you want to talk about when Mum hit Dad?" I think that's where she must be going with this.
Lucille grimaces. "You are a clever boy. Yes, I do. And that was very wrong of her. I understand that not all Mundanes take it seriously if a woman does it, but they should." She sometimes called non-magical people 'Mundanes.' "It must be that they think physical strength is so important…"
She's gabbling. "You want to say that that's why Mum doesn't live here?" Her dark green bottom lip quivers, and she nods. "Listen, Sammy, I have to go away, back home… I mean, back to my old home… because of my job. I have to see my mother as well. I'll be away three days."
Aw, I want her to stay. "Wish you wouldn't."
"Oh, Sammy," she leans down and kisses my forehead, "I want to take you with me. My mother won't have a problem with that. It'll be like a holiday. To the magical world. A magical holiday."
"Go with you? I'd like that." It should be fun, being with Lucille for three days. "What'll it be like in the magical world?"
She grins at me, crinkling her shiny green nose. "You'll see soon enough."