Charles looked at Billy, then Dani, watching as her changing expression mirrored his own feelings. They’d both started out smiling, thinking Billy’s cries were of a child playing… then they’d seen his face. Charles had looked to Dani for reassurance, but hadn’t needed to. Dani’s reaction reinforced his own conclusion as she turned and ran up the hill toward their shrieking son: the boy was screaming in stark, naked terror.
Billy stood frozen, head thrown back, hand raised to point a finger to the sky, screaming again and again. The boy himself was suddenly lost to sight, enveloped in his mother’s fierce hug as she knelt on the grass before him, but that pointing finger still thrust over her shoulder and toward the clouds, steady as a signpost carved from stone.
“Billy, it’s alright, Mommy’s here, Billy please Billy, hush, hush, Billy, easy, easy, Mommy’s here…”
Dani was nearly inaudible beneath Billy’s ululations of terror but Charles heard them clearly in mind and memory, a litany grown familiar over time as they’d offered Billy comfort again and again. Slowly, the boy’s song of terror degenerated into words — a barrage of words just as repetitive as his mother’s, but words all the same, the boy putting name to his fear.
The fear of the day.
“Dragon! A dragon! There! A dragon! It’s coming — coming for us! Dragon!”
Charles followed his son’s pointing finger, shading his eyes as he gazed up at the sky looking for whatever had set Billy off this time. He squinted, then sighed, trying to hide his frustration and couch his words in encouraging tones.
“It’s a cloud, Billy. Just a cloud, Son. Billy, try to listen, okay? It’s just a cloud. You see?”
He looked down to see Billy’s face, visible now as Dani twisted in her crouch to look, sighting along that pointing finger toward the odd-shaped cloud tinted red and pink with the coming sunset.
“It’s a dragon, Dad! A dragon! Can’t you see it? Can’t you see? A dragon! All red, and—”
“It’s just a cloud, Billy,” Charles said, raising his voice to be heard, trying to penetrate an hallucination with nothing but words and a reassuring tone. “Just a cloud. It’s shaped like a dragon … a little. I mean, if I squint at it and use my imagination …”
Even as he spoke Charles could hear Dani still murmuring, mouth close to one small ear, trying to get through to Billy on her own using comfort rather than reason even though the doctors all agreed reason was their best bet. Charles noted with some satisfaction that, though their son completely ignored Dani, he was responding to his father’s words.
“No, Dad, no! Not a cloud! No squinting or nothing, a dragon! It’s coming for us, Dad, coming for us! We have to run! Have to hide! Have to—”
“No, Billy. We don’t.” He spoke sharply, trying to shock the boy into listening. Dani looked up at his sudden increase in volume and he turned away to avoid the censure he knew he would see in her face. He shaded his eyes and looked back at the cloud.
“It’s just a cloud, Bill! I mean, it’s… well… yes, it’s kind of dragon-shaped, sort of… and the wind is pushing it this way, but that’s all it is, Son. A cloud in the wind. I mean … “ He looked about, then pointed off to the right. “Okay, check out that cloud over there! See that one? That one looks like a dog with three heads. See it? It’s just a coincidental shape made by clouds in the wind, you see?”
Eyes on the clouds, still pointing for the benefit of the boy, as he bent down to whisper harshly in Dani’s ear.
“I thought Dr. Stevenson said these pills would help, but he seems worse than ever. What the hell are we paying that quack for?”
He raised his voice again, though Billy’s screams had fallen to a repetitive murmur, almost a moan:
“…the dragon, it’s coming… the dragon, it’s coming… the dragon…”
“Look over there, to the right of the dog! See that one that looks like a face? See it, Billy? And right above the face the clouds get all lumpy and twisted, almost like a bunch of snakes? That’s a face right out of mythology, if you look at it with a little imagination, but it’s not really Medusa! You know that, right? No more than your cloud is really a dragon, you understand?”
He turned back toward the part of the sky that contained his son’s fear and saw that, rather than being blown apart as he’d more than half expected, the cloud seemed to be a little tighter, a little more dragon shaped. The wind was blowing it closer too… and faster than before. It was almost as if it were swooping…
C’mon, get a grip for cryin’ out loud, he thought. Keep thinking like that and you’ll wind up on one of Dr. Stevenson’s prescriptions yourself!
He spun to check on the cloudy Cerberus, then further to look at the misty Medusa, noting that they too were holding their shapes pretty well for clouds in a wind strong enough to blow them closer at such speed. He turned still further, nearly completing the circle.
“Look over there! See, Billy? That one even looks like a giant striding toward us carrying a big club. But is it real? Of course not.”
He looked back down at the two of them, noting for the first time that the pointing finger now belonged to Dani. It was her face showing naked terror as Billy buried his own in her shoulder. Charles just had time to realize that clouds seemed to be blowing in from all directions, and to wonder for a moment just how the wind could do that, before his world became nothing but heat and the scent of his own burning hair as flame rained down from above…
~ ~ * * ~ ~
This month on Friday Frights the prompt is "Writer's Choice of Artist". There are several artists who have donated some of their work for this little project, and our job is to look at the available art, choose a work that speaks to us and write a story based on that inspiration.
Here There Be Dragons is the tale that popped into my head when I saw the artwork to the left, a piece titled Dragon, by Thomas Arensberg.
Image created by Thomas Arensberg.
More examples of Thomas's work can be seen on his Facebook page.