Ava Grzerchnik 2018 - 2020

Do You Remember Me? 

You are creamy and shiny,

You are the first child in your family,

You are cleaned daily,

Alongside your brothers and sisters,

So that when you enter, you light up the room,

But one day, your legs began to wobble,

First a little bit,

Then more, and more,

Until someone pushed you off the pink stage!

You fell to the floor,

But couldn't get back on,

Because now an adult has taken your position.

You were put away in a safe place,

And a fairy came to collect you,

You told her to go away,

But she told you sharply,

“No tooth, you are not wanted here anymore!”

You were shocked,

“I am no tooth!” you exclaimed, “I am an actor”

The fairy explained that you were a tooth, and now you were to be traded.

You finally agree, and you were traded for some gold coins. 

The coins were quickly spent on lollies, but I still remember you, do you remember me?

Drowning

Deeper and deeper.

The water washes over me

I sink gracefully down, down, down,

Into the endless depths.

I thrash my limbs, but to no avail.

I scream, calling out to someone – anyone – to save me.

Bubbles rise up, up, up.

Deeper and deeper.

My eyes are burning, but I barely notice it over the agony in my chest.

I must take a breath, must ease this pain.

I open my mouth, the water flowing freely into my lungs

Deeper and deeper, darker and darker.

Darkness envelopes me.

 

Am I dead?

The Swan

The man walked drunkenly down the dark street. The only light at this hour being the lampposts that he would soon bump into.

“Watch where yer goin’ yer bloomin’ idiot!” he yelled, as his voice slurred. He was lucky that no one was awake, as they’d likely call the cops on him. In his current state, it was a miracle that he managed to remember his way home. He stumbled through the open door into the pitch-black apartment and fumbled to turn on the light. He soon gave up and waded through the dark, barking out a curse when his foot collided with something hard. He made his way to the bedroom and collapsed on the neat single bed, falling asleep instantly.

~~~~~~~

The next morning, he woke to the sun beating down on his face through the now-open window. He groaned and shifted his head to sleep some more, but the action made his head throb. He gently lifted himself out of bed, grimacing at the discomfort of moving. He made his way to the bathroom and turned on the shower, holding his head in an attempt to ease the pain now hammering at his skull. After the shower, he was glad to have a clearer head as he walked into the kitchen and found his wife in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

He sat down at the table and read the sports section and comics in the newspaper while he waited. His wife slid him a plate piled high with eggs, bacon, toast and tomatoes.

“Good morning Ernie, dear,” she said softly, careful not to overwhelm his sensitive hearing, as he pulled the plate closer towards himself. He grunted in response and dug in heartily. She turned the tap of the sink to fill the basin with fresh water and frowned when no water came out. Twisting it further, a sudden stream burst from the tap, splashing her apron. She gave a yelp of surprise that sounded like a trumpet in Ernie’s ears.

“Shuddap!” he snapped, rubbing his temples. “Yer givin’ me a ‘eadache.” He took a gulp of water from his cup and went straight to the couch. He switched on the TV and found that the news was on. He yawned but didn’t change channels.

“You should go to work soon,” his wife reminded him. He ignored her. His current mindset told him not to bother. He’d go out shooting instead, and maybe make a bit of coin at the market. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his wife’s slim build moving as she left the house. He continued to ignore her and kept his eyes trained on the screen. He finally grew bored with the presenter babbling mindlessly about some ‘hot topics’, or something similar. He switched the channel to a sports station. A grin crept up his face as his favourite team came into view.

“C’mon,” he muttered, talking to the players on the screen “Get ‘im. That’s it! Yes! Go on!” he was nearly yelling now. “SCORE!” he hollered, leaping up and dancing around the room despite his head’s protesting screams. “THAT’S HOW YOU DO IT!!” He sat back down and finished the game, yelling and groaning at certain parts.

He glanced outside and saw that now was the perfect time to go out and shoot something. He got his rifle and a pack of bullets. He stuck the rifle down his trouser leg and shoved the bullets into his pocket. He scratched his stubbled chin as he grabbed a bag and walked out the door.

He walked to his favourite park and shot three rabbits in a matter of minutes. He reloaded as he took in his surroundings; he saw a little girl with pigtails running away from her father and some swans in a nearby lake (he quickly looked away – swans made him very uncomfortable nowadays). He suddenly noticed ten ducks flying overhead in a ‘v’ formation. He shot down three before they flew out of range. He grabbed the game off the ground and shoved them into the bag with the rabbits. When he looked up, he saw the girl with pigtails staring at him.

“You can’t hunt here,” she said. “It’s illegal.”

“And ‘oo are ‘oo to be tellin’ me that?” he demanded.

“My name is Lisa, and my daddy owns this land. He can get you arrested,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Lisa!” called out her father. “Where are you?”

“I’m over here,” she called over her shoulder. He came running over to where they were standing. When he saw Ernie, he froze. A chill ran down his spine, as they stared at each other.

“Well, I’ll be blown,” he said after a moment. “Ernie Brown.” Ernie took in his face, then glanced at his daughter. They both bore the same blue eyes and dark hair, and that little gleam in their eye that he couldn’t quite understand. He wondered how he hadn’t recognised the girl earlier.

“Peter Watson?” he muttered. Peter glanced at his gun, then at the bag that Ernie was still holding. His face turned furious.

“You weren’t hunting were you?” he asked with a hint of venom. Ernie was about to reply, but Peter’s voice made him hesitate. “Get off my land!” he said in a tone that made Ernie feel small, despite being at least three inches taller than him.

Ernie did as he was told, heading home. As he did so, he pondered something that had bothered him after that interaction with Peter Watson. How did he get so scary?

A Sound, a Smell and a Human

My sensitive ears pick up a scattering rock by the riverbed. I immediately dismiss it as an animal of some description. I sense it entering the water. That’s when I notice something wrong. An oiliness that does not belong in the water. Something that no animal makes. I swim up to investigate, floating just below the surface. The sunset light creating a greenish hue to the water. I can feel my mane drag through the water as I move, but I ignore it. It doesn’t take long to find the source of the disturbance. A woman. She kneels over the river, her face smudged and dripping onto her kimono. She hasn’t noticed me yet, and dips her face back into the water. She stays under for a short time before coming back up for air. She scrubs her face and opens her eyes. I can see the moment that she notices me. Her wide eyes track over my body as I lie in the water. She meets my angry gaze for a fraction of a second before her eyes dart back down again. She stands, her kimono shifting to reveal pale pants. That’s odd, going against tradition, but I ignore it.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, putting on a deep, dangerous voice in an effort to scare away the trespasser. She visibly pales, shocked into silence for a moment.

“Um, sorry,” she says with a shake in her voice. “I didn’t realise anyone was, uh, here.” Her voice is steadier than most, but I can smell a nervous sweat. I grin mischievously at her and she clears her throat, the scent of her fear deepening.

“Is that so? Tell me, human,” I say, moving closer to her. “Why are you tainting my river?”

“T-tainting? What do you…?”

She falls silent as I lift myself from the river, water dripping from my mane as I rise to my full height.

“…mean?” she finishes meekly, a hand not-so-subtly reaching for something at her waist, only to find nothing there. She crosses her arms over her chest instead.

I look down at the now tiny human. “I mean, why are you putting something in my river?” I repeated with a touch more aggression than I needed to. Honestly, humans are so easy to scare.

“Because, I need to get this makeup off,” she replies quietly, possibly thinking that I can’t hear her.

I cock my head to the side. “Makeup?”

She flinches in surprise. Or fear, I suppose. It’s hard to tell with humans.

“How did you...” she trails off, shifting on her feet. After a moment, her face lights up slightly. What is going through that little head of hers? “Right,” she says as if she had just remembered something. “Dragons can… of course they can.” She takes a deep breath.

“What are you doing here, girl.” I ask, feigning annoyance to speed up the conversation. If my past experiences with humans is any indication, fear goes a long way.

“I… er,” she closes her eyes and takes a breath. When she opens them again, she meets my gaze. The sheer will and strength required to hold the gaze of a dragon… I grin down at her. It doesn’t seem to scare her. “My name is Maiko, and I need your help.”

“Is that so?” I ask.

“Yes.” Her gaze holds mine with surprising strength, for such a small and fragile thing.

“And what could a child, such as yourself, be running from that suggests that a dragon is…safer?”

“Arranged marriage.” She clasps her hands together in front of her.

“Arranged marriage? That’s what you’re running from?” I try not to laugh.

“Don’t laugh. Don’t you dare laugh,” she hisses, glaring up at me.

“I wasn’t planning on it.” I say, still stifling my laughter.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Oh, really?”

She glares at me again. “Really.”

I allow the silence to fill the air as I watch this angry human. “How old are you, girl?”

The question seems to startles her; she shifts on her feet but doesn’t break my gaze. “15.”

I lift my eyebrows in surprise. “Only fifteen?” I am not laughing anymore.

“Hence why I’m running.”

I tilt my head to the side again, studying her. Humans are so small and harmless. Living and dying in a blink of my long life. What’s more, their faces change colours with their emotions. It’s curious. What’s the harm of keeping her, really? At least for a while? After all, she has the guts to approach a dragon and ask for help. I decide to lower myself back into the water slightly, to seem less threating.

“So what do you propose I do?” I ask her.

“Well… I suppose I could stay with you. I don’t know anyone with the power to stand against my father’s will, so someone like you is my best bet.”

“Who is your father, exactly?”

She swallows, feet shifting. “That’s the catch, I suppose.” She grins up at me, and adds almost hesitantly. “He’s the Emperor.”

~~~

Maiko sleeps in a nearby cave while I think over my options. Technically speaking, the Emperor held no power over me, but he may call in an old debt to get his daughter back. The last time I spoke to an Emperor was around sixty years ago, and he was dying. I can only assume that Maiko’s father is his heir. Therefore, I shouldn’t owe him anything.

Hopefully.

Humans seem to have a knack for bargaining with dragons. Especially young ones like me. The thought makes me suspicious of Maiko, and I hope that I am making the right choice.

~~Three Weeks Later~~

“Hey, Mogami?” Maiko asks me as we are sitting in the cave where she stays.

“Yes, Maiko?”

Does it ever get annoying?” She leans against my back as she speaks. “Hearing everything?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, twisting my head around to look at her. She’s so relaxed, now. It had taken little over a week before she could tolerate being in the same area as me, and now she trusts me enough to lean against me. Besides, I trust her too.

“Well…” she thinks for a moment. “When we first met, you heard me whispering when you were way above me.”

“It’s not too bad.” I am silent for a moment before I say. “I can roar at other dragons, if that’s what you mean.”

“Wait, wait. Let me get this straight,” she says indignantly, sitting up as if it would prove her point further. “Your hearing is super sensitive, and yet you can roar without an issue?”

“I suppose that is the case.” I reply calmly.

“That’s ridiculous!”

“It’s just the way things work.”

“Dragon logic,” she scoffs quietly. “Makes no sense.”

“Because human logic is completely understandable!” I point out sarcastically.

“… Good point.”

She lies back down against my back, playing with my mane. I close my eyes and let the silence fill the dewy air.

“So, why is your mane made out of seaweed?”

I crack open an eye and say with a hint of pride, “I am a mighty water dragon. We learn to hide in the water, and a mane of seaweed helps with this.”

“Ah. Right.”

There is another beat of silence, and I hear her take a breath as if to say something else.

“You really can just keep talking,” I tell her, grinning at her surprised expression.

“How did you…? Wait, never mind.” She stops playing with my mane and asks quietly, “Do you want me to stop asking you questions?”

“It’s not that it’s…” I trail off, struggling to find the words. She waits for me to continue. “I am unused to people asking me about… well, dragons. I assume that everyone knows the things you ask.”

“So… does that mean I can keep asking questions?”

I chuckle. “Certainly.”

“Okay, so can you see underwater? And can fire dragons see through fire? Oh! Are your scales waterproof?”

“First, water dragons have a second eyelid that permits them to see underwater. As for fire dragons, I do not associate with their kind. Please refrain from speaking of them again.” I pause and she nods her understanding. “My scales are waterproof, but my mane is not.” I finish.

“Well how about—” she begins but I shush her at a sound outside. I watch the cave mouth and listen intently. I can hear footsteps. Loud footsteps. In time, but slightly out at the same time.

“What is it?” she asks softly.

“I hear humans. Lots of them.” I look at her. “Please hide yourself.”

She does as I say without hesitation, climbing up a path that we had planned over a week ago. I wait for the humans to approach me before making my any move.

I am not disappointed. A man walks into the cave and approaches me. He is alone. Now alone with me. A foolish mistake, really. Unfortunately, the Dragon Law and Courtesy Regarding Humans and Other Weak Creatures states, we may not attack a human (especially an unarmed one) without hearing them out first.

Although, that is the reason that I didn’t kill Maiko on-site, and she ended up becoming my friend. So, I suppose the Law has its…benefits.

He stops a safe distance from me, and pulls out a scroll from his embroidered tunic. He unravels it and reads in a wheezy voice. “Greetings, Dragon of the Mogami River.” He bows. “My name is Enmei Nakamura, and I am here on behalf of the great Emperor Jomei. His daughter, Maiko, the Princess of Japan, has been missing for little under three weeks now. His Imperial Highness has sent out Visors, such as myself, and armies along with us to return her to her rightful place. Do you have any knowledge of where she could be at this time?” He looks up at me as high as he dares, which is only halfway up my chest, and folds the scroll to open later.

“I see.” I say deeply and slowly, with an enhanced formality and interest with my words. “I do not believe that I have seen her. Could you describe her for me?”

“She has dark hair and eyes, pale skin, positively stunning and graceful as a princess should be. She was last seen, if I can recall, in a beautiful kimono.”

I almost, as Maiko would put it, roll my eyes at the disgusting gush in his tone, but I manage to form an answer. “I apologise, but I have not seen a woman of that description.” I hesitate for a moment before asking, “Do you know why she is missing, may I ask?” Of course, I already knew this, but that tone that he had while describing her… it made my mane stand on end.

“Nobody knows. His Imperial Highness was merely planning an arranged marriage before she vanished.”

“How curious. Dare I ask who our lovely princess is to be married to?”

The Visor seems a little flustered at the question, but he answers the question. “To me, of course.”

It is an effort not to spew scalding water all over him. Maiko, courageous, headstrong Maiko, is supposed to marry a weak and pathetic man such as this?

“Isn’t it strange that a man with power, such as yourself, was sent out to find the princess alone?”

“I— Well, I suppose it is a little strange,” he says with a wheezy giggle. “But I wish to find her, and prove to His Imperial Highness that I am worthy of his daughter’s love.”

“Well, good luck finding her. I hope you do.” I tell the Visor. Each second that passes, the longing to burn his face off heightens.

“Well, yes. I hope to find her soon as well.” He rolls up his scroll and bows again. “Good day to you, Dragon of the Mogami River.”

I nod at him as he walks out quickly.

I make sure that he is well out of my earshot before I mutter to the listening Maiko, “You may come out now.”

She climbs back down slowly. “He’s disgusting, isn’t he?” she says with a wry chuckle. “Now you understand why I left?”

“Undoubtedly.”

I hear a whining sound, and realise suddenly that the multiple feet that I heard before are still there.

The arrow strikes me on my left hind foot, and I let out a roar of surprise and pain. If it had hit almost anywhere else, my scales would have rebounded the intrusion. But they know a decent amount about dragons, it seems.

Today, I think as I turn to glare at the shooter, marks the day upon which humans started a war against the dragons.