Adam Dunn floundered through the woods doing his best to stave off panic. He was lost and knew it, but refused to give in to the fear that fluttered in his chest. Follow the trail, she’d said. Take the right fork, she’d said. What trail? What friggin’ fork! There was no fork; there was no trail that he could find. Where had he gone wrong?
Did that tree look familiar? Sweating, Adam leaned against it for a moment and squinted at the sky seeking inspiration. He ran a hand along his hairline removing the sweat that beaded there and took a deep breath. He could do this. How far off could he be?
He was the president of a corporation for God’s sake and the retreat had been his idea. He had pulled upper management together for a long weekend at the Wilderness Hope Center to get to know his managers and for them to get to know him. The brochures had sounded idyllic and some of his contacts in the business world assured him it had worked wonders for them. It built trust.
“Only if it doesn’t kill you first,” he muttered. Pushing away from the tree he headed towards the sound of water he hadn’t noticed until just a moment ago. If he followed the stream surely he would find his way out of this mess.
Shadows lengthened making the trees appear taller and somehow menacing, as he made his way through the tangled underbrush. He wasn’t sure if the eerie yellow light filtering through their branches was a trick of the light or his over active imagination at work, but either way it made him nervous. Intent on finding the water he could hear pounding against rocks in the distance, Adam hurried on.
Ghostly fingers of mist wound their way through the trees and swirled in eddying pools around his booted feet. He realized that the bird sounds he had been hearing all morning were suddenly silent and it raised goose bumps on his arms.
He glanced around anxiously trying to get his bearings. He didn’t have much experience with the great outdoors. He was far more at home in a board room than hiking through nature in all its supposed glory. Personally, he wasn’t finding it edifying in the least. Anger with himself and with the activity director who had encouraged this madness helped keep some of the rising panic at bay. It was much easier to think about giving her a piece of his mind than to focus on his current predicament. She should be fired for giving such poor directions and he could make happened.
“This is ridiculous. I will not allow my imagination to get the best of me.” Comforted by the sound of his own voice, he tried to ignore the thickening mist and straightening his shoulders he strode boldly on with more purpose than direction.
Without warning the once solid ground under his feet give way to a steep, rocky slope. Losing his balance he tumbled down the incline unable to stop his plunging descent. Rocks bruised his ribs and wild brambles tore his flannel shirt. He felt the sting of a thorn across his cheek, but had no time to care; he was too busy trying to grab at anything to stop his rapid fall. Leaves scattered and flew around him making it difficult to see. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity he crashed against a large boulder and cracked his head with a sickening thud. He saw stars for a brief moment before he lost consciousness.
* * * *
It took a moment for Adam’s foggy brain to realize he wasn’t blind and a second more to realize a cool cloth was covering his eyes and that is why he couldn’t see. Relief surged through him making him feel shaky and sick. Experimentally he moved his arms checking to see that they still worked before he cautiously raised one to remove the cloth. Little aches and pains made themselves known, but his mental inventory told him he was in one piece. Blinking rapidly he tried to make sense of the rough, cave like walls and the glittering rocks that twinkled in the dim light.
“Ah – I see you are awake.” The voice floated to him from somewhere to his right and he turned his head slowly to follow the sound. Books covered every surface and were stacked willy-nilly on the floor, ready to topple at the slightest provocation. Carefully he sat up and rested his back against the pillows stacked randomly around him. He winced as pain lanced through his skull.
“You took quite the tumble, young man. You are lucky you didn’t hurt yourself worse than you did.”
“Where am I?” Adam croaked. He pressed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose hoping to relieve a little of the pounding in his head.
“That isn’t important at the moment. Would you like something to drink? Tea, perhaps?”
He tried in vain to see the owner of the voice. It seemed to float to him from many different directions at once and was hard to pinpoint. The tone was gentle enough and definitely female, but there was a quality to it that made him think the owner had a slight speech impediment.
“Sure…tea will be fine. Thank you. Um, my name is Ada….”
“No names, please!” The voice was sharp and raised the fine hairs on the back of his neck. “Names have power. You should not be so willing to hand that power over to a complete stranger.”
“Ho-kay, if you say so.” Nonplussed he started to feel a little alarmed. “Then how do we address each other, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My kind go by many different names, but have only one true name. That name is never revealed to anyone but the most trusted and then very cautiously. You may call me January for now.”
“January. Why are you named after a month? Wait…your kind?”
Adam heard what sounded like sharp claws scraping against the stone floor and wondered what could possibly make such a noise. He wasn’t left to wonder long before a large shadow moved towards him resolving itself into what could only be described as a Dragon. Terrified, he scrambled across the bedding until his back was pressed firmly against the cave wall. Slowly, he gained his feet, never letting his eyes move from what was in front of him. He clutched the uneven surface with shaking hands and willed his legs to support him.
“I must be hallucinating. Yep, that’s it. I am seeing things. You can’t be real.” His voice shuddered on a whisper of sound.
“I’m real enough,” January replied matter-of-factly. “Go ahead, take a good look. I won’t harm you.”
“How can an illusion harm me?” Adam’s voice held a raw note of hysteria. “I must be in a hospital somewhere. I’m in a coma…that’s it…a coma. That’s why I am imagining this.”
January held out a delicate china cup filled with steaming tea and he took it without thinking. Part of his mind registered that she had what looked like hands that ended in very sharp claws. Automatically he took a sip of the steaming brew and immediately felt a little steadier on his feet.
“So, this is what it is like to fall down the rabbit hole?” he murmured to himself. “I don’t suppose I am going to see a white rabbit any second now, am I?”
January snorted a laugh that sent warm, earthy smelling breath his way. “That was certainly a good book. I enjoyed reading it immensely. The writer had quite an imagination.”
Adam listened to her with unwilling fascination. He might as well enjoy his coma while he was in it and allowed himself to study January. Objectively he realized that she was really quite beautiful as far as Dragon’s went. Not that he had ever met one before, but he was almost sure she would be considered lovely to others of her kind. Iridescent scales of green, swirling with hints of purple and amber covered her. Translucent wings nestled close to her side. Her face was broad at the top and tapered to a delicate muzzle graced with sharp, pointed teeth. Glasses were perched on her nose and magnified the darkness of her eyes. Her build was powerful, but small and her tail narrowed to an arrow point. It was currently curled around her haunches where she sat patiently watching Adam watch her.
“You wear glasses. How is that possible?” He was proud that his voice sounded almost normal.
“They help me read the small print.”
Adam drained his tea and handed the cup back to January. “I see,” he said, although he really didn’t. “I notice you wear jewelry. Those are beautiful rings on your – ah -hands. Good grief, is that a Dragon pendant around your neck?” Startled he leaned forward to get a better look, forgetting his fear for the moment.
She preened a little under his regard and stroked one clawed hand over the shining, silver pendant. The workmanship was magnificent and rendered in great detail.
“Why would a Dragon wear a Dragon necklace?”
“I enjoy the irony,” There was smug satisfaction in her reply and he blinked. “Besides, I like jewelry and this is a well done likeness of my kind. How is the headache, by the way,” she asked, changing the subject.
He considered her question for a moment. “Much better, thank you. Surprisingly well, in fact.” He sounded surprised. “So, do you mind if I ask you some more questions?”
“Not at all. It has been a long time since I have had a guest to pass the time with.”
“Really? How long is a long time?”
He watched what he thought was amusement flit across her face before she turned to set the teacup on a convenient stack of books. “Let’s see. Time passes differently here than it does where you come from. Occasionally, there is an alignment that opens a door between the two worlds and some have stumbled through. Much like you did today. I think the last time that happened would have been several hundred years ago by my reckoning.”
Adam gulped and sat down abruptly. “What happened to them?”
“Some go home, eventually. Others remain.”
“By choice?” he asked tentatively.
“Of course. Why would they stay otherwise?”
“I don’t know. This all very new to me you understand?” Adam rubbed the back of his neck and considered his options. “If I wanted to go home how would I accomplish that?”
“You will know how it is done when the time is right,” she replied enigmatically. “Would you like to see my home? I find it a pleasant domicile, if I do say so myself.”
Trying to keep up with the quick changes in subject he nodded and stood. He was finding is less odd to be talking to a Dragon and was beginning to enjoy the experience. It helped that he was certain his body was safely tucked away in a hospital somewhere just waiting for his mind to rejoin it at some point.
January turned and tramped carefully through the mountains of books. The cave was much larger than he realized and was struck dumb when they left the small side cavern they had been in and entered what appeared to be the main room. Lanterns were stuck on rock outcroppings that jutted periodically from the walls. The ceiling was immense and covered in jewels that twinkled in the light. Adam thought it looked rather like a night sky filled with stars. Here too, every surface held stacks of books. Although it looked unorganized and haphazard at first he suspected there really was rhyme and reason to the chaotic jumble that met his eyes. A desk of sorts stood in the middle, its design made to accommodate January’s large size. Parchment rolls littered its surface and an inkstand holding a quill stood ready for use.
Glittering jewelry lay draped around the room, intermingled with the books. Distracted for a moment Adam picked up a silver chain that had a ruby the size of his fist dangling from its center. An annoyed huff had him hastily putting it back where he found it.
“Wow!” was all he could think to say as he slowly turned around taking in everything in the room. “Have you read all these books?” That seemed like a safe subject and he willingly grabbed for it.
January pushed her glasses up her nose and chuckled softly. “Dragons hoard. It is our nature. I’m a little different in that I don’t hoard gold, but knowledge. Yes, I have read all of these books, some more than once.”
“That’s incredible! I’ve been too busy of late to do much reading and I think I miss it. Business has been a challenge and it has left little time for personal pursuits. When I get home I am going to try to find a better balance in my life.”
“Books feed the soul, young man,” she chided gently and with a lightening change of subject that he was beginning to enjoy continued, “I have given you a name to call me, but do not know what you wish to be called in turn.”
He opened his mouth and then shut it with a snap when January held up a cautionary hand. “Remember, it is never to your advantage to tell your true name.”
“I understand. Well, actually, I don’t but that is neither here nor there, is it? I don’t know all the rules you play by, but I’ll try if it keeps me in one piece. I’m all about staying in one piece.” Pausing for breath he searched his mind for inspiration. “Why don’t you call me Captain Jack. Yes, that will do…Captain Jack.” Amusement bubbled through his veins. It tickled him to call himself after one of his favorite characters, an immortal being that investigated aliens and the rift that sent them to earth. Somehow it seemed fitting and he fervently hoped he proved as long lived as the fictional Captain. It was a secret vice of his that he watched that television show each week. He was sure the board members would not be comfortable with that whimsical side to his nature. It didn’t bode well in serious business circles.
“As you wish, Captain Jack.” She smiled her dragon smile and Adam suppressed a shiver. He suspected she was being friendly and not threatening, but sharp teeth were sharp teeth no matter how you dressed them up.
“If you hoard books, January, then why do I see jewelry scattered about? It is obvious that it is important to you. Not to me, of course,” he added hastily in case she thought he would take any of it.
“I may love knowledge and books, but I am female first and jewelry is another passion of mine.”
“Well, if that pendant around your neck is any indication then you certainly have good taste.”
She preened a little under his admiring gaze before moving further into the room headed towards the desk. Adam followed in her wake taking care not to dislodge any stacks.
“I like your home. It seems to suit you rather well, but I really would like to return to my own home soon. If you know how I may do this, I would very much appreciate it if you would tell me.” Adam spoke diffidently and nearly ran into her when she stopped suddenly. He back peddled quickly when her tail whipped around as she turned. The sudden movement reminded him that he still had a headache and he flinched.
“You have just arrived. Surely you can spare some little time to talk to me?” Her dark eyes shimmered brightly and Adam was amazed that it looked almost like tears. “I don’t like to admit it,” she said, “ but I get lonely on occasion.” She clasped her clawed hands in front of her and lowered her head dejectedly. “There aren’t many Dragons left on this world and travel is not as easy as it once was.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea.” Tentatively, Adam reached up and patted the area he thought of as her shoulder. The scales were smooth and surprisingly warm and he found himself petting her before he could stop himself. A little embarrassed he clasped his hands behind his back. He was beginning to find this world far more real than he felt a man in a coma should find it and it was disturbing. “Maybe I can stay for a day or so? I don’t want to be gone too long or people at home will worry.”
“If you tell me of the wonders in your world then maybe I can help you find your way back. I am very curious about the glimpses I have seen in my crystal ball, but there are gaps that I do not comprehend. It will help with my research and writing.” January’s posture straightened and she eagerly crossed to her desk and grabbed a roll of parchment.
“You are writing?” Adam’s eyebrows went up in surprise.
“It passes the time and amuses me. I am writing about a world I have caught glimpses of where technology rules and magic is forgotten. People are too busy to enjoy their lives and war against their neighbors is considered an acceptable means to an end.” She glanced at Adam over the rim of her glasses. He swore color bloomed on her cheeks, almost like a blush. Fascinated he sat on a convenient stack of books and watched her.
“I think I can help you there. It sounds an awful lot like the place I come from.”
“I suspected as much,” she responded. “How sad that what I have written could be your reality. Would you like to read some of what I have done?”
Adam reached for the stack of parchment she handed him and made himself more comfortable before he started to read. It wasn’t long before he was caught up in the story she wove and only paused in his reading to make comments or suggestions when they presented themselves. Time flew by quickly and it was only when he found a cup of tea thrust in his direction that he paused in his reading. Blinking owlishly he rubbed tired eyes and smiled his thanks.
“This is a wonderful story, January,” he said sincerely. “You have a good eye for detail and keep the plot moving without bogging down. It is amazing considering you have never been to my world that you have captured it so well.”
“Why, thank you, Captain Jack. I try.”
They sipped their tea in companionable silence each lost in their own thoughts. Adam felt refreshed and energized as he swallowed the last drop and realized he had felt the same way after drinking his previous cup of tea.
“January?” he began tentatively, “Is there something in this tea I should know about?”
“What do you mean?”
“I noticed that I am full of energy, when I should be exhausted from my fall and the amount of time I suspect has passed. I should be hungry, but I am not.” Worry shaded his voice.
“Oh…well, as to that, Dragons are magical you know and I infused the tea so that you would recover quickly from your injuries. I assure you, there is no intent to harm you in any way.”
“Are you sure?”
“Captain Jack! You are my guest and will be treated with utmost courtesy while you are here!” Indignation had puffs of steam coming out of her nostrils and Adam gulped.
“I didn’t mean to offend you – truly, I didn’t,” he quickly assured her. “Your world is just so new to me. I am sorry, January.”
Mollified, she gently removed the teacup from his hands and sent it back to the cupboard with a slight pop of magic.
“Apology accepted,” she replied graciously. “Now that we have that out of the way, would you tell me about your life? I am very curious about big business and things like corporations. But, mostly I would like to hear about the little things that make up your every day.”
She came out from behind the desk, and clearing a space near Adam sat down. After a little wriggling to find a comfortable position she made a small gesture and sent a wisp of magic to her bedroom to fetch a stack of pillows. She tucked them comfortably around her.
Adam crossed one knee over his opposite leg and clasped his hands around it. He leaned back a little and contemplated the flickering lanterns for a moment while he gathered his thoughts. Softly he told her of his childhood and days spent playing football and running wild with his friends. He talked of wanting to be a fireman, then an explorer or a sailor visiting strange new ports. He talked about his father’s death and sadness coated his words.
January quietly listened. Without realizing what he did Adam scooted off the pile of books he had been sitting on and made himself comfortable on the floor beside her. He paused for a moment when she handed him a pillow.
“Go on,” she urged quietly.
Taking a deep breath, he continued. He told her that life had changed from that point on and he described the responsibilities that were suddenly his. He explained how he had grown up over night and realized his life would take him into the business world and there would be no more room for dreaming. The more he talked the more he saw the paths that he had taken in his life and the more he wondered what would have happened if he had chased his dreams more. He realized that he had allowed the dreamer in him to be shut off and that his life had lost much of its color and texture as a result. It occurred to him that the retreat he had taken his managers on was really more for him than for them. He had been searching for something; he just hadn’t realized it at the time.
He talked until he was hoarse and as he talked he felt something loosening in his soul. He felt a sense of freedom and peace. Sometime during the night he fell asleep and when he awoke much, much later he was curled against January’s side his head resting on her forearm.
Yawning, he sat up and stretched until he felt the stiffness in his muscles relax. January opened one sleepy eye and regarded her companion.
“I hope I did not bore you with all the talking I did?” he asked diffidently.
January uncurled herself and smiled her Dragon smile. Adam didn’t find it fearsome now and idly wondered why he had ever worried to begin with.
“You know, this coma thing is really working for me,” he said. “How else would I have ever met a Dragon, much less had a conversation with one? I do hope I remember this when I wake up.”
“Are you so sure this is imaginary?” she questioned as she stood and gently shook her wings to remove any kinks. Satisfied, she pushed her glasses up her nose and lightly brushed at a piece of lint only she could see.
“What else could it be?” Adam pushed to his feet and ran a hand through his dark hair.
“Captain Jack, I believe you are at a cross roads with your life and I think you know what you must do.”
“I sense our time is almost over and it will soon be time for you to return to your world.”
“What? What if I don’t want to go back? What if I want to stay here – with you?” he said, suddenly nervous at the thought of returning to his former life. It held little appeal now.
“It is impossible. You have been a wonderful guest and I will miss you.”
“But, you said others have stayed, right?”
“What they left behind was a life broken beyond repair. It is different for you.”
She turned away and lumbered towards the back of the cave. Adam scooted around some books and got in front of her. When she made no move to stop he walked backwards to prevent himself from being trampled.
“I thought we were friends, January?”
“We are and that will never change. I will give you a gift before you go so that you always remember me.”
“I don’t want a damn gift.”
“Not even my real name?” She paused for a moment and looked expectantly at Adam. “All I ask is that you never reveal it to anyone else.”
“Names have power. You told me that yourself. Why would you tell me your name?” he demanded in frustration.
“It is the most valuable thing I have and I trust you with its secret,” she said simply.
Slightly mollified and curious in spite of himself Adam nodded his head. “I promise I will treasure this gift, January. I will never reveal it to another soul.”
“Good. My Dragon name is….” January began to walk again and Adam backed hastily out of her way. The back of his legs fetched up against a large stack of books and he lost his balance. He couldn’t stop himself from falling any more than he could have prevented his tumble down the hill in his world. He hit his head with a sickening thud and felt his consciousness begin to slip away. He heard her name and warmth flooded his body as he tumbled into blackness.
“Adam. My name is Adam,” he mumbled groggily. He wanted January to have his true name. It was his gift to her.
“How are you feeling?” Competent hands ran over his limbs and he felt a brace being placed around his neck.
“You’ve taken a nasty fall, but I think you are going to be okay.” The paramedic said. “We’ll take you to the hospital to be checked out though.”
“You gave everyone quite a scare, Adam. We’ve been searching for you for hours.” He recognized the voice of one of his manager’s and tried to focus his blurry eyes on him.
“Whatever were you doing so far off the beaten path?”
Adam didn’t answer. He was disoriented, curiously sad and didn’t want to explain himself.
He was lifted onto a stretcher for the trek out of the woods, but before he could be moved further he felt something cold and smooth being placed in his hand.
“You dropped this. It was lying beside you.” The voice drifted away and Adam clutched the oddly shaped object in his fist. He realized it was a ring, but he never wore rings. Opening his fist he held it up to his eyes. It was one he had seen before and a smile lightened his face when he recognized it. He had seen it lying beside a ruby necklace.
It was a silver ring with a black circular stone set in the middle. Carved in the stone was the shape of a Dragon.
Copyright 2013 by Kylie Wolfe. All rights reserved.