Monthly Archives: March 2023
Animal House, You Say?
Okay, so I dragged my 54-year-old butt on two 90 minute college campus tours this weekend. That’s an hour and a half each time, for those of you that…Animal House, You Say?
Next Sunday Spotlight Goes Behind the Scenes with Writing Battle!
My next Sunday Spotlight (March 26) will give us a unique perspective into two amazing supporters of the writing community when we visit with Max and Teona of Writing Battle! We will discuss this phenomenal peer-powered writing competition, how it came about, and the amazing community of writers from around the globe taking part. You’ll get to hear the perspectives from both Max and Teona and be inspired by their teamwork and how they made a dream come true.
Thank Goodness for Friends! Finally Got Out for a Show at the Lake
It has been too long since I’ve been in a throng of people having a good time. Not that I’m a partier or one who gets out a lot in the first place, but after three years of pandemic life, hibernating in front of my computer writing, and this year, being restricted by an unusually harsh and long winter, I realized that even infrequent participation in society is better than none, and it’s good for the soul.
So, my friend had tickets to Elle King and needed a buddy to brave the snowy mountain highway with her to Lake Tahoe, which is thirty minutes from our neighborhood, and another ten to South Lake.
I like Ms. King’s songs. I hoped for a good show. She was okay. Seemed like she’d been partying a bit hard before coming on stage. She was quite sassy and tossing out the f-bombs liberally while toking on a joint. A little of that goes a long way. What can I say? As a writer I cringe at demonstrations of limited vocabularies. We also waited a long time for her to start after her amazing opening band concluded. And she left abruptly with no encore. But that’s okay. I still had a great night out.
We enjoyed a fabulous dinner and service at the Sapori Italian Kitchen at the top of Harrah’s with an amazing view of the famous emerald lake surrounded by snow and clouds any artist would dream to paint. I loved the opportunity to indulge in good company, lots of conversation, and people watching. Even the room at the Quality Inn was cozy and the perfect place to crash before heading home the next morning.
But there are a few other highlights that made this outing special. I have an entire scene in book one of my series, The Starlight Chronicles, where Andras takes Selena for an evening out at Harvey’s. It’s a pivotal point in the plot, Andras’s big reveal, and precipitates a critical action scene. It was good to see that my impressions from previous experiences were spot on, and I felt like I was walking around in my book. The people-watching was a much-needed opportunity for character ideas. What a blast! Getting outside my head for stories is kind of amazing.
The Red Clay Strays
The second highlight was the opening band, the Red Clay Strays. I’d never heard of them and I always love an opportunity to be introduced to new music. If you haven’t listened to them or seen them live, I recommend both. If you like Country mixed with Rock, the energy of Jerry Lee Lewis mixed with a Chris Stapleton-like voice, you’ll dig this band.
A Pretty Little eBook Available in your Favorite Bookstore – Now in Paperback!
Writing Battle! – My Winter Flash Fiction Entry – A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere
A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere
by D. L. Lewellyn
Two brothers get swept into the Coral Sea by a wave to end all waves, but they have their surfboards and ride it out. Then, a giant, golden fruit bobs up on the horizon, carrying a motley crew of survivors, and promising the strangest of rides.
Carter passed the binoculars to his brother as they leaned against the railing at the top of the giant pineapple. The fiberglass fruit hadn’t started life as a houseboat, but it made a damn good one once it was swept into the sea by the tsunami that wiped out eastern Queensland. Before that, it served for decades as a popular photo op entrance to a zoo.
“Still no sign of life in any direction.” The dire report came with Flynn’s unflagging optimism, making Carter marvel and shake his head.
“Miro thinks we’re mostly drifting in circles but maybe edging closer to New Caledonia. What do you think?”
Flynn lowered the glasses. “If anyone has a clue, it’s Miro. He can read the sky. Going in circles isn’t good.”
“I know. Rations are thinning… like, to nothing, but us starving is not what worries me.”
“You still haven’t made friends with Bunji and Dainen?” Flynn chuckled and nudged his brother.
“It’s not a matter of making friends. What do you think the tigers will do when they get hungrier? Even to me, you look like a juicy steak.” Flynn laughed harder, which lifted his spirits. Nothing could shake his brother’s sense of adventure. It’s what kept them alive long enough to come across this absurd sanctuary.
The brothers were camping on Rainbow Beach when disaster struck over what turned out to be an unbelievable swath through Oceana. They survived the monster wave, the one everyone talked about but didn’t believe would come, only because they were excellent surfers. They spotted the swell on the horizon before it grew so massive it blocked out the sun, and they grabbed their boards and prayed. Thanks to Flynn nabbing his bugout bag with a flare gun and firing off a shot, they found each other again, though it took them half a day to join up and lash their boards together.
After that miracle, they’d drifted for days, as if they were the only two beings on the planet. On the night before their next miracle, the starry heavens had lulled Carter into philosophical dreams, and he’d given himself up to the big sleep when his brother’s hopeful voice penetrated his resignation.
He’d lifted his head towards the horizon and said through cracked lips, “Is that a pineapple?”
“Yes. And there are people on it, waving like mad. We’re saved, Carter, by a giant symbol of hospitality.”
The next surge rolled them close enough to paddle alongside the marvelous fruit and be pulled onto the lacquered rind where they laid on their backs and smiled into friendly faces leaning over them, blocking out the morning rays. When giant, furry heads nudged their way into the greeting, the brothers kept smiling. Why wouldn’t there be tigers on a floating pineapple?
Carter returned to the present when Miro popped out of the makeshift hatch and demonstrated his uncanny hearing. “Oi! You knocking my babies, mates?”
Bridie popped up next to him, and her freckled face split into a grin. “I thought you blokes knew better.” Thunderous growls followed, and Carter grinned back at the zookeeper who’d raised the orphaned beasts like a brother, and the teenage girl who was the first to hitch a ride with him on this giant fruit, bobbing its way to… anywhere.
Five days later, Carter was in a staring match with Bunji. Was the cat drooling? He thought by this time he and Flynn would be bones scraped clean and bleaching under the sun. They were all starving. Nothing in the way of food had made an appearance, no matter how hard they searched. Even Miro’s uncanny abilities found no success.
He laughed when purrs erupted from the massive cat as it plopped on its haunches, lifted a hefty paw, and licked it. Dainen draped himself alongside his brother to enjoy his own grooming.
Carter jolted when the cats rose in a baffling show of alertness. Then, he felt it. “Um… Miro, why is this pineapple bobbing like a fishing lure?” He was already queasy with the jerky motion.
Flynn and Bridie were sitting cross-legged on their sleeping pallets, playing poker with homemade cards. They looked at Miro when the pineapple lurched again. Then, Bridie laid down her hand, squealed, “full house!” And scrambled up the hatch to the surface.
Flynn called after her, then followed. Carter came up behind them and stood next to his brother to gape at their surroundings. Something was wrong. He looked up. The sky wasn’t right either. Even the ocean seemed different.
Miro yelled for them to get inside just as surging waves pounded them into a cliff. But that wasn’t their worst problem, because swooping at them from a massive nest above were a pair of humongous… pterodactyls? Wicked claws reached for them.
“No way!” Flynn cried, but with an edge of excitement as they dove inside.
They rode out the pummeling until everything stopped, even the surging sea. Miro ordered, “You three will stay inside, and the boys and I will investigate.” His eyes pinned them down until they relented.
After so many hours passed listening to strange noises, Bridie said, “That’s it. I’m going after him.” The brothers didn’t say a word. Just geared up with their meager belongings and followed her out of the hatch.
They climbed down, then stood in an unnatural paradise.
Flynn sniffed the air and concluded, “It smells primal.”
“I have no idea what primal smells like, but I get you,” Bridie whispered as they crept up the beach on shaky sea legs. She jerked to a halt. “Do you hear that?” Not only was the sound terrifying, but the ground vibrated.
The tops of the trees rustled.
When the tigers leapt at them, they cried out and ducked, then realized their feline heroes were pouncing on something much bigger, with scales, gnashing teeth, and a terrible roar.
Miro stepped out of the trees and beckoned them, and they ran for their lives… The tigers on their heels.
How the Contest Works at Writing Battle
Writing Battle… Winter Flash Fiction Contest… What can I say? Okay, I’ll just say it. It feels just like I went ten rounds in a boxing ring! (Since I’ve never done that, I make conjecture here for dramatic purposes.) Only it’s a month long and a knock down drag out struggle through five rounds.
First, there’s the excitement of drawing my prompts with the fabulous flipping tarot cards. Then deciding within the very narrow timeframe of creating my story whether I want to stick with my draw, or try for a redraw. (This time, I did avail myself of the one redraw allowed for the genre, so I went from Winter Survival to Lost World and it felt like a bonus gift! I stuck with my character – zookeeper, and object – pineapple, but I could have redrawn up to 7 more times)
Writing a story in a Lost world with a zookeeper and a pineapple? No problem!
Then comes the writing, rewriting, begging friends and family to read it, rewriting, rewriting, then hitting that submit button. Whew! Surviving stage one… done!
Stage two… the duels. I get to go from writer to judge. The best part? I’m treated to some very good stories (in the three other genres I’m not competing in), and it is so very hard to pick between the two stories (for five duels)! I’ve discovered that offering feedback is not only a great way to give back to my community of writers, but it’s a super good learning experience.
While we wait for stage three, we can open our story to the community and read other stories, then give and get more feedback, or just chat. There are four genres. I mentioned two, Winter Survival and Lost World. The other two were Occult and Meet Cute. One of my favorite stories I read in the post-dueling rest period was from a male author who got Meet Cute and decided to go for it. It wasn’t in his wheelhouse. It was my favorite story. He nailed it. The characters were amazing, it was funny, and the ending delivered the perfect punch and left me grinning.
But the nail biting continues folks. Once the dueling is over and we’ve chilled for about a week and enjoyed more stories, the scoring begins. It’s quite an elaborate system, but I’ll try to capture the gist. There are four rounds of elimination based on the initial seeding round and subsequent dueling results, then the fifth round goes to the professional judge. Each day, we come back for the results. Yikes! I will mention at this point, the platform is pure genius, if you aren’t picking up on that already. All the stages are well laid out with a timer, so you know exactly what will happen next and when.
My goal is to make it to round five one day. I think (if I’m figuring things out right) I made it to round three this time before getting knocked out. My story in the 2022 Autumn Short Story Contest, The Passengers (edited here based on feedback), made it to round two. But that’s okay. The competition is fierce, and no matter the results, you get feedback from your peers. Talk about learning. The story above got enough consistent feedback to tell me exactly what to work on.
I’m signed up for the 500-word Spring Micro Fiction Contest. Registration is open! Then comes the 250-word Summer Nanofiction, then Screenwriting… and back to the 2000-word short story. Did I mention yet, there are cash prizes? Very decent ones, too.
Feedback is welcome on A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere. I’d love to see how it jives with my peers at Writing Battle.
Enjoy a little computer generated imagery and thanks for visiting, and the read!
My Pineapple AI art, courtesy of Photoleap
The last photo is the real thing and inspiration for my story. A landmark in Queensland that captured my imagination before I even traveled there. How could I not use this awesomeness in a story with a pineapple prompt? 😉
Now for the big announcement!
You can meet Max and Teona, the team behind the Writing Battle platform, at my next Sunday Spotlight, March 26. Check out their intro on my Creator Spotlight page!
Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Truly Insightful and Inspiring for any Creator who Takes on Years-long Projects
Welcome to my Sunday Spotlight Graham. What a delight to have this opportunity to catch up with you and have you share your works with us. I’ve not …Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Song of the Siren Presale
Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Welcome to my Sunday Spotlight Graham. What a delight to have this opportunity to catch up with you and have you share your works with us. I’ve not had many guests where I could say “I knew you when.” And that makes our chat special for me because when you took those steps after high school to set off on your creative journey, which led to your amazing career we will chat about today, you helped me take a few bold steps of my own. I’ve always been grateful for that.
So let’s start by introducing you as the principal behind Imperative Pictures, a film company with an exciting and eclectic body of work our readers can check out on IMDb. Your 2018 film I May Regret was selected for the San Diego International Film Festival and won the Grand Prix at the Vienna Independent Film Festival, and Blind Malice did fabulous on the awards front as well. Grace Zabriskie earned a best actress award, which I was thrilled to see. She’s always been a favorite of mine. All the actors gave us potent scenes in that film. It was also a special treat to join your crew to watch it at the Sacramento International Film Festival on the historic Delta King riverboat. And you’ve gone on to win many more international film awards. Congratulations!
D. How long do you work on your story ideas, the writing, before a piece becomes a full-fledged project? Or do they start life as a film concept, then comes the writing?
G. I always start with a subject matter. Usually through the act of general wide-cast exploration I eventually stumble blindly upon a subject matter that I had little or no knowledge of. That’s when I get interested. That’s when I become intrigued. It usually means I’m not alone and the subject matter is worth furthering to educate people like myself.
Then I ask myself is it a big enough subject matter?
If so, the writing process always starts off super fragmented, at best. I try not to focus on a storyline, but instead, I’m usually fixated on an ending; an outcome; a take-a-way. Having a specific ending in my head from the start is essential. It’s the core driver for everything else that will take place for this project for the rest of my work. Even after the film is done this core still drives marketing and promotional possibilities.
Once I know what I wish to say about the subject matter, then I can start creating an actual narrative that takes us on a journey that ultimately lands on that final point or message. I guess you can say it’s reverse engineering.
D. As a writer, I have been interested in the differences between writing a novel or a screenplay, especially since I noticed that many writing challenge platforms offer screenwriting contests along with short story writing. Which means to me, many fledgling writers want to write that next epic screenplay. I think the main thing is creating scenes that build on each other through a story arc. But what other key features are there in writing screenplays?
G. I don’t have a clue about writing a novel but I do know a bit about screenplays. The work is not random. A good story may appear organic and without format, especially done well, but once you strip away all the glitter it is a body of work that usually fits the model of a solid 3-act structure specific to screenplay writing.
The challenge of a screenplay is that, unlike a novel, a screenplay never overtly articulates the inner thoughts of a character. A screenplay can only provide observation. Moving pictures. So glances, body language, choice of words, or lack thereof, emotions you can see, manipulative actions you can witness. Clues like a faint smile. A welling up of the eyes. A nervous clearing of the throat. Those are the visuals an audience relies on to gain insight into their minds.
A screenplay is only a roadmap for the director to get you from A to B. In many ways, unless detail tells you something to actually further the story, it is never included. The roadmap can be widely interpreted and visualised. No two people read a screenplay the same way, and thus a director who embarks on a writer’s work has the opportunity to tell the story from his or her unique directorial perspective. A unique directorial lens.
The same story can appear unrecognisable from director to director. But each story ultimately says the same thing in the end. The roadmap takes the director to the end.
D. Fascinating. Exactly the insights I was hoping you could give our audience and a wonderful glimpse into the creative freedom of a filmmaker.
D. As the writer, director and cinemaphotographer on your films, which would you say is your true calling, or is it a combination? Do those roles change with each film where you might do more of one than the other?
G. I love every stage of filmmaking. If you truly love every creative process, why not do it all. Right? I think of filmmaking as approaching a painter rightfully approaching an oil painting. The painter would never sketch out a drawing, paint half of it, and then hand the brushes and paint over to another painter and say, “Hey, wanna do the rest?” No. A painter usually picks a subject matter, outlines the concept, lays down the base coat, paints in the images, indulges in all the detail work and finishings. Signs it. Frames it. Heck, the artist might even have a strong opinion about how and where to hang it.
That’s how I feel about filmmaking. I enjoy and love doing every aspect of the work.
D. That’s a fantastic analogy. And that passion shows in your finished product.
D. How do you assemble your team? Do you have a crew who is part of Imperative Pictures, or do you recruit for each project? Do you have a system you follow each time, or is it more organic? Feel free to expand on your creative process, how a film comes about from start to finish.
G. It’s a hybrid. We have garnered team members who consistently work with us if they are available. We have others we recruited for one project, and then they go on to bigger and better projects as their careers advance.
Many years ago we created the Imperative Pictures Internship Program in conjunction with Emerson College Film School, Boston/Los Angeles. As a result, when we are gearing up for a production we take on any number of young and inspiring interns who spend the semester learning how we approach filmmaking. Then, timing permitting, they roll into production for an actual feature film production experience. They truly get their hands dirty in the business.
They also walk away with IMDb credits for a feature film. It’s a great program and we love launching bright new students into the film world.
D. What a brilliant program. A win for everyone.
D. I have to say you have a knack for creating a story that has me on the edge of my seat from the start. I loved the opening scene in Blind Malice just as an example. Is suspense a favorite genre and method for telling the character’s story?
G. Yes, I love suspense. I also love psychological thrillers. I guess you can say I like when the mind has to work hard to understand another person’s mind. It’s the human connection I focus on to tell my story. If we can connect with the main character by creating a character who is both flawed and inspirational; undeniably human; the possibilities of where that character can lead us is endless.
D. Beautiful. I can definitely relate to this as a writer, and it’s something I strive for.
D. Your films bring an awareness to challenges many of us face in life, whether physical, cultural, or social. Was that an underlying purpose for making them, or a happy accident that became your trademark?
G. Happy accident. But not without some master planning. Making a film consumes many years of a filmmaker’s life, and after the film is done it runs over and over in perpetuity. So, I always want to be sure I’m making something that has meaning, purpose, and will be relevant and serve to better our society as the story is told. It needs to be worth my time.
The earliest of storytelling was to teach lessons for the community. Feature films have even more of an opportunity to inform its viewer and potentially a wider audience. A film garners a captive audience. What an opportunity it is to make a body of work that can provide insight, perspective, and clarity to a topic that could ultimately change another person’s life somewhere in the world. That’s the power of film.
We take film seriously. It can literally shape a person’s view of the world for a lifetime.
D. Tell us about Imperative Pictures’ latest film, Unfix.
G. Unfix. It’s my newest film. We’re currently doing sound design on it. It’s a story about a 35-year old man named Ari who, at age 11, following a brief encounter with another boy, was forced into the torturous practice of Conversion Therapy. But now Ari is 35 years old and happily heterosexual, and “fixed”. But when the pandemic hits, Ari’s world is turned upside down once again, awakening dormant questions about his fundamental authentic self; casting doubt he was ever really gay.
I stumbled upon the topic during my rabbit hole research phase. I knew a little about conversion therapy but the more I dove into the topic the more convinced I was that this was a topic that needed to break the walls of specific sexual orientation to make it universally relevant. We hope the story achieves that.
D. It’s hard to imagine parents putting their child through such trauma instead of nurturing the child’s discovery of where they fit in the world. Yet, it happens to a lot of us, sometimes in more subtle ways. I’m glad you’re telling the story.
D. I’m going to hark back to high school because for me, the most fascinating aspect of this interview is knowing you back then and having you share how you got here today. There were so many ways you expressed your creativity in those early years; music, art, drama, starting up social groups and small businesses to spread creativity to others, and finally traveling to Japan. When you were exploring all those ideas, did you have any inkling you would end up behind a movie camera?
G. Settling into film took some time. Maybe subconsciously I already knew when I bought my first video camera in Japan in 1980. It was a dinky little compact micro-cassette SONY camera and I took it everywhere and I made so many little movies. And then I started making “Santa Sightings” short films for my niece and nephew every year. Then short films. Then finally bigger and bigger films as my confidence grew.
But professionally, I was working in News. Then LIVE TV work. By being in the field, I was learning that I don’t like the chaos and uncertainty that accompanied that kind of production. I eventually discovered I am more of a planner. I like being organised. My dissatisfaction with LIVE TV and NEWS ultimately steered me toward film. Film is calculated. It is planned. It employs strategy. All the parts of the brain I like to exercise, while still being fully creative. The feature film medium found me.
D. I bet your niece and nephew adored those movies. My imagination is taking off thinking about how you told them.
D. How big a part did living in Japan play in forming your film career? Did you travel there with the idea there might be opportunities for your future, or did you simply set out on an exciting adventure?
G. Japan moulded a great deal of my work ethics. Japan also served as the foundation of my first 20 working years in production. Oddly, Japan also made me feel like an outsider, and I was okay with that. That feeling helped me make decisions for myself, not for others.
I owe so much of my creative autonomy to travelling outside my comfort zone, learning how to survive and flourish in another culture, chipping away at another language, using a part of my brain that would otherwise have gone unused, to who I am today. Especially in the 80s, Japan was as far one could get from the “Western” culture.
I grew immensely from those 10 years abroad and 10 more working for a Japanese TV network back in the states. It gave me a unique sense of confidence as I moved forward in life.
D. A great learning experience to pass on. Thank you for that, Graham. We were fortunate to travel there in an era when Japan was opening up to western culture. Even in my three-month visit, I ran the gamut from dealing with the challenges of being an outsider in a traditional Japanese family to being thrown into the middle of the family’s western growing pains.
D. What would you say is your biggest influence or turning point that got you where you are today?
G. There has never been one big influence or turning point that got me where I am today. It’s always been about achieving productive goals every day. Small bite-sized goals over weeks and years that lead to bigger daunting life-changing goals. Slow and steady progress requires staying on track, and not veering off my course. I did not know how I would get there, just that I wanted to get there. I am still “getting there”.
My father once gave me perhaps the greatest advice ever. I was 16. I was fixated on what I would do when I grew up and how I would get there. He asked me to take out a piece of paper. Fold it into four quadrants. He instructed me: in the first quadrant write DAY. The next one, write MONTH. Next, write YEAR. The last one, write ULTIMATE. He explained, to get to your ultimate destination you just need to set clear specific but small and easy goals that will lead you there.
Daily achievements will result in monthly success. Months quickly turn to years and as long as your ultimate goal is in view, you will move in that direction.
“But remember,” he said, “Set goals you KNOW you can achieve so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Give yourself tasks you know you can check off daily, so you feel like a winner everyday. Use it every day. Keep it folded up nicely in your back pocket. Constantly remind yourself of the ULTIMATE goal.”
I use this method to this day.
D. I love this! Thank you.
D. Who would you say most inspired you, or your works?
G. I love all art. I study art but not necessarily film artists. I am a consumer of movies but never try to emulate work I’ve seen. I try to let it come from within, depending on the story I’m telling and what I’m feeling.
One of my greatest inspirations has always been my father. He was an artist. I learned from watching him work.
D. When you talk to people about getting started in the film industry, what are your top pieces of advice?
G. My advice to anyone who wants to be in film? Get a business degree! Film and art and all the juicy creative things in life we will study our whole life long, but taking the time to get a solid business degree, so you can survive in the real world as you pursue your art is essential.
In the end, if you want to make a living in the arts, you need to remember art is a business.
D. Are there works in progress? Where can we follow you to see what’s coming next?
G. For now I’m still consumed with UNFIX. After sound design, we will go to festivals, touring for a year. Then I will slowly start the cycle again; indulging in research and asking myself what topic is out in the world that I don’t know anything about and is very important to learn more of. That will be the beginning of a new chapter in my life… a chapter that will, again, consume many years, and ultimately last a lifetime.
Like all my films. Actually making the film takes about 4 years. In 4 years time I can go to college and get a degree. It should be at least that powerful for me.
D. This is the most surprising insight, the amount of time and commitment to each film. Your analogy really puts that in perspective.
D. Where do you see yourself as a creator in the next ten years? Same question for Imperative Pictures?
G. I hope to never retire. I hope I can keep making movies deep into my 90s while I sit poolside in some resort! Haha. The topics that will be important in 10 years time are inconceivable at this time. I am an optimist. I trust the future will be amazing, and I’m sure the world will be, in many ways unchanged and in so many other ways, literally unrecognisable.
Ten years is just around the corner. I hope to have a few more films on the platter. I just want to keep doing what I love. I’m in a sweet spot right now, and I hope to continue this.
D. I have no doubts you’ll be making movies in your 90s. I hope the same goes for writing my stories. I’ve got enough planned to get me there! Poolside. Hmmm. I like it…
D. Thank you so much for visiting, Graham! Any parting words of advice to our readers on following their creative passions?
G. Filmmaking is a very long road to travel to make a film. If you aren’t operating from a place of pure passion you will eventually fizzle out. Find a partner in life that you can travel on that creative journey with. My partner is Alex. He is my producer, my advisor, my manager, my best friend, and the love of my life.
I will close with this. Thank YOU for doing this spotlight, for me and all the interesting stories of the inspiring people you share with your readers.
Like filmmaking, you are providing your own unique platform that can potentially give insight and inspiration to others, shaping a person’s view of the world for a lifetime – all through your Sunday Spotlight.
The Guardian – A Dragon Story
~ Mareduke is the last of his kind, and if the humans have their way, no dragons at all will exist in Kassia. Then, he meets two remarkable beings intent on changing his fate. ~
I hope you enjoy this story I submitted to a contest where the prompts required a dragon meet a toddler in the forest, and what followed. This was a joy to write.
Mareduke’s bloody, scaled head froze mid dip. He reeled his tongue back into his mouth and stared at the child across the water. A long, cool drink was critical to his state of near-death, but he gave it up to inspect the reflection cast into the mountain lake by the tiny person on the grassy ledge.
An image of a girl not much more than two, wrapped in a cloak, wavered over the surface. The sun glinted on that spot as if shining a beacon on the proof he sought. He raised his eyes to the embankment again.
The toddler was real, and she was staring back.
His snort displaced the water below his face. She would just have to watch while he got his fill because he was losing blood faster than his magic could heal him. There were too many wounds. Enough to end him if he didn’t hydrate and rest.
The humans’ trap this time was multilayered and rigged with an exorbitant number of blades that had pulled Mareduke farther down a natural pit with every move he made. They must have spent weeks designing all the intricate hazards.
He had come close to losing his head to a sawblade, and a broadsword missed his heart by inches when it lodged between his ribs. But when he quit panicking long enough to halt the agonizing plummet, he was able to gather his magic and break free with enough momentum to gain altitude and escape the armed contingent of dragon assassins waiting for him on the surface.
He’d spit his wrath at the failed murderers as he flew away, but they jeered at him when his usual rain of fire barely amounted to a drizzle and his wounded body kept listing sideways. He didn’t care. At this stage of his life, he was accustomed to the humans and their collective superior attitude towards him and his dying species.
Still, he couldn’t understand their brutal solution to his thievery. He wasn’t there to hurt them, just to grab a meal, a plump sheep or two, because they had a penful of the tasty morsels too tempting to resist. Why did all humans insist on trying to kill him before his time? As far as Mareduke knew, he was the end of the line, and the idea, when he let himself dwell on it, that humans couldn’t share the whole of the Kingdom of Kassia with even one of his kind offended him.
The dragon managed to stay aloft all the way to this refuge to recover his strength. That was the idea anyway because no humans came to this lake high in the mountains. Yet, inexplicably, he beheld one of their children standing at the edge of the water by herself, appearing as if she were on a picnic. By now, he was sure the toddler was alone because even as he concentrated on recuperating; he’d been watchful. Nothing but the two of them stirred in this place.
He settled on his haunches this side of the dark green expanse and rested his chin on his front paws, so he could better observe her. She hadn’t made a sound, only sticking her finger in her mouth as she looked around, then back at him. This was the most bizarre thing he’d experienced so far in his young dragon life. What was she? He presumed human, but she could be anything.
He gave some thought to how he might find out since neither of them could speak to the other. So, he tried to pick out clues. Her cloak was made of fine, blue-dyed cloth with a glimmer weaving through that spoke of magic. Her wavy mop of strawberry-blond hair and clothes appeared clean, though her feet were bare.
That made him wonder if she was cold but then he thought not. It was mild this time of year, even at this elevation.
While he sorted her out, she made herself comfortable as well, plopping down on a fluffy tuft of grass, her stubby legs sticking straight out, and her toes wiggling as they stretched towards the water. She got busy plucking nearby wildflowers until she had a short bouquet gripped in her hand. In between peeking at him, her fingers absently returned to her mouth as she observed other bits of life in her immediate vicinity. He watched in amusement when she sniffed the pungent flowers, and her nose wrinkled, but she smiled happily at her collection.
Mareduke grew entranced when nature began to react to the tiny being in its midst. Just like it had done to her reflection earlier, the sun shone a beam of light on her, and dust motes danced around her head. Two bees drifted towards the flowers, then darted in to sip at the nectar. Butterflies flitted near her face, which made her smile widen.
Next, woodland creatures inched closer. A rabbit stood above the grass and wriggled its nose at the air. A pair of doves settled in a branch above her and cooed. A doe and her fawns watched it all from underneath the tree. Squirrels, hedgehogs, and even a young fox made an appearance. None of the creatures paid any attention to Mareduke, their fascination centering on the happy child.
Mareduke thought that even with her mysterious aura, she must have parents worried sick somewhere, but even more curious than where she was from was how she came to be here.
The dragon froze at the sound of crashing through the trees. All the life clustering around the child scattered, leaving her blinking at their sudden absence. She stood and turned towards the increasingly noisy disturbance, which now included thundering growls amid the sound of cracking branches.
A mountain troll was coming. Mareduke could smell the vile creature. He should have earlier, but he’d been distracted. Now, he had to decide what to do about the abandoned child who was in its path. The troll would sooner snack on her than look at her, and the only thing to stop the voracious brute was Mareduke, but he was still weak from his injuries.
When the bulbous head made an appearance at the edge of the trees, Mareduke wasted no more time thinking. He flapped his wings and in two strokes, landed between the oncoming threat and the helpless toddler. The troll’s red-rimmed gaze fixed on Mareduke, and he bore down on him with a makeshift club he held in both hands.
Mareduke laid his wing over the ground and motioned for the little one to hop on. But she just stared at him. The beast closed in, making the ground shake under them, its growls deafening.
The absurdity of his situation made Mareduke want to snort in protest. Here he was, a perpetual target of human violence, getting ready to lay down his life for one of their offspring, if that’s what she was, because she couldn’t grasp that it was imperative to climb on.
He inhaled with everything he had in him for one good burst of fire, even as he indulged in images of the stories told of his sacrifice on behalf of the enemy… until he remembered there was no one but a baby to witness his death. And if he was destroyed, she had no chance.
He launched his fire. It stopped the oncoming troll… for all of ten seconds.
The child tucked beneath him tapped the bottom of his chest with a fist so small he could barely feel it, but it got his attention. She smiled up at him and clapped her hands, and Mareduke experienced an entirely new sensation. The air turned heavy, then seemed to curl in on itself. His stomach lurched, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them, they were in a flower-covered meadow surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. He didn’t recognize the mountains, and there was no sign of the troll.
Mareduke’s world stopped tilting, and he took in his surroundings. A hut squatted near a giant oak tree with a stone fireplace taking up an entire end. Smoke curled from the chimney. There was a garden with neat rows of vegetables, and a milk cow poked its head through a half door in a miniature barn as it chewed its cud. A raven cawed at them from the roof, and the child’s face split into a wide smile. She waved at the bird, which elicited a louder squawk as it stretched up and flapped its wings, then flew towards them.
The raven landed at the dragon’s feet, and proceeded to change to a tall, bearded man with flowing robes who looked down at the child and said, “Well done, Eliana. You found him.”
He looked up. “Can you understand my words, dragon?” Mareduke dipped his snout, and the man said, “Judging from your abundant wounds, your guardian was nearly too late.” Guardian? He looked at the small, grinning face. There was a sparkle in her eyes.
At Mareduke’s inquiring look, the man said, “Have you no knowledge of the Western Woodland Fae?” Mareduke stared at him, and he continued. “The fairies, who guard all living things in Kassia other than the two-legged kind, though their kinship with dragons is the most sacred. A Fae like Eliana is born only every eight hundred years, give or take, with a special affinity for dragons, and a destiny that compels her to do all in her power to preserve the species. A necessary service when you have a hereditary enemy bent on wiping you from existence.
When Mareduke continued to stare, he added, “You must have raised yourself, young dragon, just like I theorized. You are truly alone, then?” The dragon’s snout bobbed again, and the man said, “What is your name? Wait, allow me to place my staff over your heart. I will be able to hear you in my mind.”
Curious to experience this, Mareduke allowed it. The oaken staff was strangely warm and comforting, which made it easy to respond. I am Mareduke. Will you please tell me who you are and where this is?
The man stepped back and said with a poignant smile, “Eliana. Meet Mareduke. Quite possibly the last of his kind… Though Eliana and I have hopes that isn’t the case. Don’t we, child?” The tiny person laughed and said Mareduke’s name in a musical child’s voice that touched something in his heart.
After a bow and a sweep of his staff, the man said, “I am Pantheos, young Mareduke. An old wizard, retired from the academy where I spent a lifetime studying dragons and their history, all in preparation for meeting up with little Eliana here when it was time. Your time, Mareduke. Finding you is one part of our task. The other is to find your mate. If we don’t, then all hope for the dragons is lost. What do you think about this purpose?”
The dragon snorted and shook his great wings as the staff again touched his chest. Then he said, I hatched alone and believed I would die alone, accepting that fate marked me as the last of my kind. I never considered another dragon waited for me somewhere. Could it be possible?
Pantheos bowed his head and said, “In fact, we have evidence she exists, or at least existed. Her name is Cindra.”
All at once, Mareduke’s weakened state got the better of him, and he plopped on his haunches.
The wizard cried out. “Please. Forgive my thoughtlessness!” He pointed his staff at the well behind them and a splash sounded from a bucket dropping into the water, followed by creaking when the wizard’s magic operated the crank to pull it back up. Then Pantheos stepped to the well, retrieved the bucket, and brought it to the dragon, repeating the process until he was sure the exhausted creature wouldn’t keel over.
While Mareduke drank, Eliana settled on his front leg close to his head and patted his cheek.
He flinched when a voice spoke in his mind, sounding anything but childish. I am sorry you suffered such abuse today, Mareduke. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the part of Eliana who always exists and very pleased to meet you. I would have found you earlier if my information had included your foray on that village. But everything Pantheos and I knew of you pointed to the lake, once you ventured out for food.
He tilted an eye at her. Your kind must hatch fully developed, like dragons. Otherwise, how can you sound like a grown person? Her little girl laughter lifted his heart, and he was sure his healing sped up by a day.
She explained more. I am an old soul aware of my occupation of this organic being who must grow in a mother’s womb before existing. I am both child and your spirit guardian, and my entire purpose is to see you survive to have offspring of your own. But we must first find a way to make peace between dragons and humans.
How are you speaking to me now, and why not at the lake?
You needed to get used to the idea of me as a child first, and I needed to observe you. When your heart opened to the possibility, we were able to connect.
When Mareduke woke this morning with an empty stomach and the misguided plan to raid that village, no one could have persuaded him that by the end of the day, he would no longer be alone.
He puffed out a tiny bit of air to ruffle her hair, making the child laugh. Her ancient voice sounded again. So long as Pantheos and I draw breath, you will never again feel the bite of loneliness.
Mareduke aimed his snout at Pantheos’s staff, and the wizard nodded, touching it to his chest. I understand a little now of the soul called Eliana, but please tell me more about the child and how she was able to retrieve a grown dragon on her own and bring us here. His big green eye moved to her. Don’t you have parents?
Pantheos said, “Eliana is my ward, and her strong Fae magic is why we have this arrangement. It is part of my destiny to train her to manage the abundant powers she was born with as a guardian. Though her soul has experienced this before, the child must learn how to function in this role. Her parents knew what she was as soon as her mother birthed her, and they sought me out. She has a mark, you see.”
The pintsize Fae swept her cloak over her shoulder and showed Mareduke the small dragon’s eye on her forearm. The mark was more proof that what they told him was true, and he wondered how he could have lived all this time without knowing about the Western Woodland Fae and the guardians.
Trepidation struck him.
Eliana felt it and turned to her mentor. Once again, the staff covered Mareduke’s heart, and the dragon spoke his worry in their minds. If humans are my enemy, what about those who come to my aid? A spark of warmth flared in Eliana’s eyes.
Pantheos said, “Well. Yes. You’ve grasped the tricky part. That is why you do not recognize these landmarks. Eliana brought you through a portal to a place the humans cannot find, the land of the Kassian gnomes. You won’t see them, but the nature-loving beings are all around this clearing, watching, never having seen a dragon.” Mareduke glanced around in interest as Pantheos continued. “And you’ve addressed the other reason her parents left her in my care. Our best chance to meet our destiny and the challenge of your enemy is to combine our strengths.
“The plan is for you to join us in locating your mate. Time is of the essence because the last known female dragon faces the same hazards as you. We’ve determined the location of her territory, which is the region in which Eliana’s people dwell. But we have not received word of Cindra for some weeks.” After this troubling news, the wizard rubbed his hands together. “Now. Did you consume any sheep in that raid? Or do you require a meal?”
Eliana pressed her hand to Mareduke’s chest and conveyed his answer in halting toddler words, as if the ancient one had retreated. “He ate one before he was caught in the trap. He’s good for a day or two.”
“Fine. We’ll catch you up and plan our expedition while you finish recovering.”
Mareduke’s head was spinning. Yet, everything his new friends said felt right. Eliana felt right, even if her dual nature was a bit disconcerting, and he knew this little glen was where he was supposed to be at this moment. As for the future, he thought to himself, could there really exist another dragon in Kassia? What if something has happened to this one called Cindra? What if it hasn’t and we meet, and she hates the sight of me? Or worse, I can’t stand her?
He snorted, filling the air with small puffs of smoke. None of that mattered if it meant he was no longer the last of his kind.
After the third time Mareduke had to insert himself between the villagers and the magnificent silver dragon belching molten fire, he began to seriously question the necessity of paring up with his own kind. No one told him female dragons were bigger than males, stronger, and could set half a town on fire with one blast.
And he’d made her angry.
It took two weeks to investigate the leads the three had narrowed down, and one more to pinpoint the most likely location to find Cindra. Having left Pantheos and Eliana in a safe place, Mareduke arrived at the south edge of the Western Woodlands, just in time to save what was left of a town under attack by the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.
Cindra had strategically wiped out the village center, including those who could organize a defense. Humans were scattering in all directions, disappearing into the woods, jumping in the lake, and hiding in rock crevices up the side of the adjacent mountain. And still she circled her quarry, laying down fire to cut off retreats and destroy crops, livestock, and any other industry critical to the inhabitants’ livelihoods.
His best guess, if anyone were to ask him, was that his female counterpart didn’t like humans. And she just added him to that list, judging by the way she bore down on him now, which made Mareduke grateful for his smaller size. She might be a powerhouse, but he could fly circles around her, and he proceeded to do that as he led her away from the village by stages, and to the secluded mountain meadow where his friends waited for them.
He just needed to figure out how to calm her down on the way.
Did the humans offend you? He tossed that question her way as he dove under her belly.
She twisted her body and flew backwards, aiming fire at him when she had a clear shot. It hit a shelf of snow and caused a small avalanche. He circled around a mountain spire disappearing from her view, then found a spot behind her, so he could try again. Is this how you treat all your new friends?
I have no friends; you muddy-colored dragon. Who do you think you are, interfering with my retribution? Flames shot from her nostrils. Are you a coward, hiding behind my back?
Mareduke snorted. I can’t help it if your size shields me from your eyes even as it blocks out the sun. Cindra roared.
But Mareduke had stopped feeling intimidated, and he went on, even as he ducked her fire. The humans try to kill me on a regular basis. But I am bigger than them, and I don’t believe in using my advantages to harm others.
Well. Aren’t you the saintly one? Is this why you showed up out of nowhere? To protect humans.
Uh… Sort of. My friends and I have heard of you. You do realize there aren’t many of us around?
Why are you so angry?
Why do you care? And where are you taking us?
Hmmm. So, she noticed. He didn’t think anything other than the truth would work, so he went for it. My friends have been searching for you and want to meet you. They only recently found me, and when they told me you existed, I wanted to meet you, too. I’m Mareduke. Will you be peaceable if I take you to them? They are beings of the two-legged variety.
Since you’ve made me curious, I promise not to harm your puny friends, but I’m not promising to stick around. I have things to do.
When they circled over the meadow, Eliana was in full sight, grinning up at them and clapping her small hands in delight.
What is that? Cindra’s voice in his head was scathing as she emphasized each word. That tiny being is one of your friends?
Her name is Eliana. Mareduke made sure to put plenty of warning in his own tone. And yes, she is my friend.
Where are your other friends?
There are only two. Now, will you land with me and let us explain?
I said I would, and I will.
Eliana’s toddler charm had little effect on the dragon with the bad attitude, but Cindra’s reaction to Pantheos when he stepped out of the trees surprised Mareduke. She went down on one knee and bowed her head.
Pantheos bowed back, and said, “You know who I am?” The silver head bobbed, and the wizard said, “Would you be amenable to drinking this potion, so that I can hear you? It is how I communicate with Mareduke.”
Cindra agreed with another nod, and Pantheos spoke in an ancient tongue as he turned his staff halfway around, then back again, and a bucket of water appeared in front of each dragon. It was only then Mareduke realized he was parched.
Cindra waited for Pantheos to add a few drops to her bucket. As she drank her fill, Eliana stepped close enough to reach out and touch the silvery, scaled face. Cindra ignored her until the small hand caressed the bridge of her snout. She stiffened, then aimed a sable eye at the bold child. When Eliana’s laughter bubbled out, Cindra pulled away and rose to her full height. But Mareduke spotted the warmth in her gaze that flared briefly before she hid it.
Pantheos said, “I am pleased to finally meet you, Cindra.”
It is an honor to meet you, High Mage. My mother told me the story of how you came to her aid. It was your intervention with the humans that allowed her to make it to the nesting grounds. Otherwise, I might not be here. Cindra’s visage darkened. The humans managed to kill her not many years after.
“I am sorry. I was informed of the tragedy and tried to find you, but you’ve kept yourself well hidden, other than coming out for those raids that have made you notorious.”
Do you know of my father, High Mage?
“Please, call me Pantheos. Yes, and I was there to help your mother through her despair. You have my deepest sympathies for the loss of both your parents, maiden dragon. That is why my young apprentice, and I did not give up our search. But it was Mareduke’s abilities that allowed us to finally succeed. It is our purpose to ensure your parents’ fate does not befall you, or Mareduke. You are the last of your kind.”
Cindra cast a scornful eye at Mareduke, then looked down her snout at the toddler still smiling up at her. Who, or should I say what, is this child?
She is a dragon guardian. Do you know of such ones?
I’ve heard of these Fae. I have respect for her people and leave them out of my reckoning. It is only the humans who deserve my wrath. And you are keeping me from my next engagement. So, I’m afraid I must take my leave.
Mareduke scoffed. That’s it? You can’t give us any more of your precious time to learn about your other choice?
Let me guess. My other choice involves mating with you. No thank you. I’m fine on my own.
Mareduke’s brownish scales glowed bronze, and green eyes blazed with his indignation. A chuff of surprise was Cindra’s only reaction to the impressive sight. Still, she spread her wings in preparation for taking off. But Mareduke got in the last word. We might be fine on our own… but should we be?
The three words were louder in their heads than intended because Cindra was already fifty feet in the air, and the reverberation elicited a squeal from Eliana as she plopped on her bottom. It was the ancient guardian who spoke next in a voice that covered the distance to the departing dragon. We will meet again soon, dear friend.
Mareduke was not sure why he made the effort to track down the unpleasant maiden dragon … again. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand her pain. Part of him would like to give in to vengeance for the violence that ended his own parents. But he’d long ago come to terms with his principles over killing. Nothing good came of it.
He thought Cindra might believe that deep down, somehow sensing her destructive ways ate at her. Convincing her to change was another matter. Eliana and Pantheos assured him it was worth a try, so they flew with him to yet another human village they had pegged on their map of Cindra’s territory. Mareduke didn’t want to admit it, but he could feel her in his heart, which assured him they were on the right path. He put the idea away for now that his sensitivity was due to a mate bond already forming.
They saw the blaze rising above the trees before they spotted the silver dragon camouflaged against a low cloud.
Sending his thoughts to his passengers, he said, She is one headstrong beast. But this village was prepared. Do you see the trebuchets lined up around the perimeter? The brave ones are determined to load them even as some die under her fire.
Pantheos added,“And it appears half contain buckets of tar, while half are fireballs. That’s quite a defense.”
The guardian said in a grim voice, I foresee those wicked devices causing her death. We must disarm them.
I will not risk you, Eliana. We should put you down somewhere safe.
You needn’t worry about me, Mareduke. We have one shot at a pass while they are focused on her. Let’s go.
The little one was right. Mareduke flew low and fast, knocking the legs out from most of the machines before the humans realized another dragon had descended on them. The flaming ammunition dropped to the ground, and the villagers scrambled to put out their own fires. But they were prepared, tying cloths over their mouths and pulling covers over each spot, snuffing out the flames.
Still, Mareduke couldn’t fly to them all fast enough. Pantheos shouted, “To your right!”
The trebuchets still standing were repositioned, tar buckets set ablaze and aimed their way. Besides the tar, fire from above rained down from a device before he could topple it. Mareduke twisted and shot up, managing to dodge the tar, but the flames hit his flank, and he faltered under the searing pain.
Hang on! He shouted to his passengers. I can get us away.
Even as he listed to the side, he managed to power his wings enough to lift above the machines, but not out of range of a tar bucket, which hurtled towards his chest. If he ducked the wrong way, it would hit his precious cargo, so he braced himself for the pain. Then, a silver, scaled wing appeared between them and the black missile.
Mareduke roared out his fear for Cindra.
The bigger dragon smashed the bucket to the ground with her outstretched wing, which also collapsed the remaining trebuchets, but not before her wing was doused with the thick, flaming goo. She listed horribly sideways, then crashed to the ground, and the smell of gaseous tar and her burning flesh filled Mareduke’s nostrils.
The humans closed in with more tar and torches.
Set us down next to Cindra, Pantheos commanded.
Mareduke wasted no time landing, then raised to his full height to shield her. Her voice, full of pain and frustration, sounded in his head. What are you doing, you murky dragon? Go! Get that child out of here!
Beams of brilliant light flared from Pantheos’s staff in every direction, like a prism. The humans stopped in their tracks to shield their eyes, then looked to the source atop Mareduke’s back.
“I am the High Mage, Pantheos. I bring a decree from the King, who swears to protect the last of the dragon kind, provided my apprentice and I found the last two alive. It is not right to destroy them.” He paused, “Or that they exact their revenge on you. That will change. There will be peaceful coexistence. Eliana and I will see to it. Now, back away and let us leave with the injured dragon.”
One of the men stepped forward. “Many have died today. What does King Lathan say about that?”
Eliana reached for Pantheos, who picked her up, so she could face the crowd. A beam of sunlight washed over her and the sweet, halting voice of a child sounded across the smoldering village. “There has been much death on both sides. It must end here.”
Though many in the crowd appeared swayed, the man shouted.“ Until there is another king who will decide differently. My descendants may yet avenge our dead.” The toddler guardian said, “That may be, if you decide that is your legacy. For now, let there be peace and let me go home with my friends. Because I promise you, one day you will need them.”
Artwork by D. L. Lewellyn using Photoleap and Canva, and the funky-limbed dragon came from Shutterstock.com. I love him anyway.
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