A short introduction, I suppose, would be slightly necessary. Tragedy has recently found its way into my life a few days ago and while I have
connected with so many wonderful and caring people on ATS who have helped me so very much, I still find myself needing to be distracted as I attempt
to pick up the pieces. One of the ways I distract myself is through writing. And I have been doing a lot of that. I've often visited this thread in
the past, lurking and reading a lot of the poetry and stories on here, thoroughly enjoying myself and how talented you all are. I just completed this
short story. It's based on an actual experience I had as a child visiting the town of Alton, but I added an element of fantasy at the end. It will
be my first time posting in this thread, so thanks ahead of time to any that read this.
I can remember the first time I saw him; red eyes, blood-colored wings, gilded scales and all. I can remember the everlasting impact I thought he’d
have on me; granted, I was only seven, but it’s as true now as it’d ever been back then. These sorts of images cannot simply be elapsed and thrown
away. Because of their inimitability, because of how outlandish it really all is, the images just stay there, locked away frozen much like the beast
was on the cliff side. For a beast of his size, it’s no wonder he so easily overtook the bluffs as his home; it’s no wonder that he was able to
plant himself within the memories of a child. Much like a parasite, he burrowed into my thoughts and dreams, I being the host. Was it truly such a bad
thing, though? At the time I wasn’t sure and in the end when I left, not much was going to change.
My grandmother promised for weeks to take us to the bluffs. For several years, my sister and I had heard much talk over the small town that rest just
beyond the Mississippi River. “Alton’s a town chest deep in history,” she’d always say. Or, “You’d be hard pressed to find any place more
amazing and mysterious. There’s a hundred years of history for every inch of water in that river.” I recall how astounding her accusations were to
me; I vividly recall attempting to imagine Alton’s history in layers and depths like the Mississippi. If it was ever astonishing to someone how
sizes and measurements were greatly exaggerated in the eyes of a child, they surely would have laughed at the wideness of my eyes. The river, while
she may not have been that wide, she was certainly very deep. Grace, my older sister by sixteen months, was far more excited at the idea of visiting
shops and eating. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to have that river deep history resting just beneath my chin.
It only takes roughly thirty minutes to get to Alton from where we lived in Saint Louis. You hang some lefts and rights through the city and before
you know it, you’re crossing a bridge so large and so golden, you’d swear the entire thing was being held up by the rays of the sun. Oddly enough,
I believed this to be true for many years having only ever heard about it up until this point. The road she drove us down was Great River Rd., I found
it to be aptly named because I’d never seen neither a rode nor a river so great.
The bluffs were unequivocally mesmerizing; so much so that it dwarfed the picture I’d had floating amidst my thoughts about how deep the river water
could’ve possibly been. The very tops of the bluffs were lined with trees, the likes of them not sporting very many leaves in early January. The
only thing that could manage to reach the sky any more closely were the eagles that day. Never again in my life would I be able to identify such a
vast difference in nature. I’d seen bald eagles at the zoo plenty of times prior. But now, now was different. They weren’t clipped and stationary
on some fake wooden branch; they were free, free to roam the sky. I wanted to be like them. I remember how easy they made it look, as if it were the
simplest of notions to humbly spread your arms out wide and take off into the sky. I wondered what they were thinking about, all the way up there.
Their heads would poke around as they made circles through some low-lying clouds, as if they were searching and navigating for something that I
wasn’t quite certain of.
With my little forehead pressed against the car window and little clouds of fogginess forming right beneath my nostrils, I remember the slight pain I
felt when my neck jutted sideways when my grandmother’s car came to a stop. We were in a parking lot, empty and cold. I remember her remarking on
how no one was there, as if it were a good thing to have the entire place to ourselves. We unbuckled and stepped out into the winter air, the likes of
which felt fierce and biting beyond the scarf I’d wrapped around my small face. The winter air found along the Mississippi had a reputation for
being unforgiving and I was beginning to quickly see why.
Grace and I trudged in what felt like mere inches, very slowly and painfully following after my grandmother, who not only was faster than us but also
seemed significantly unaffected by the cold. With both of us clenching our eyes shut for fear of our eyeballs turning to ice, we both were quick to
open them the moment we heard our grandmother shout, “There he is! Take a look at’em, why don’t you!?”
And there he was, scarlet eyes and fangs just sitting there balanced along the riverside bluff. For a creature so titanic in size, it was no wonder
his claws were so very enormous; he’d need them to merely possess the perching capabilities needed for such an endeavor. I wasn’t exactly sure
what to think of him; surely, he was part human because he had the face for it. However, at the same time, he possessed physical attributes that would
indicate he was some kind of reptile or bird. I was certain he had scales, but at the same time his wings definitely had feathers. And his tail, the
way it tangled all around his animal-like body, behind his large antlers and long beard, sent a shock down my spine that forced a gasp out of my mouth
as opposed to words. He was a dragon, surely I’d deemed it so.
As I stood there, eyes glued with permanence upon this peculiar creature, my sister was the first to ask, “Are we going in there!?” It took a
shake of the head to bring me from my daydreams, and it was then that I noticed the caves she was motioning to. Just to the right of the cliff side
painting, a cavern had secured a pathway through inward towards the darkness. A nod from my grandmother made her all the more ecstatic, while for me,
it made me all the more frightful that I was entering this dragon’s territory. Telling myself it was merely a painting did little to stifle my
juvenile fears. Hearing my grandmother explain to us the history of the scaled bird and how the Cahokia natives had painted one in its very likeness
as a possible means to warn travelers that they were entering Cahokia territory only further piqued my curiosity for what the strange creature truly
was. “Legend has it that the bird lived in these caves, sitting and waiting for the next wandering traveler to eat,” my grandmother cooed, no
doubt entertained by the bewildered look on our faces.
edit on 4-8-2017 by ReyaPhemhurth because: (no reason given)