by Edmund Stone
The house heaved and sighed. Anna woke to the sound of it. Her bed was shaking and moving sideways; the room was alive. She was trying to make sense of it, but nothing came to her. She grabbed her robe and hopped from the bed.
“Ow,” she shouted. The floor was red hot. It burned her feet and sent her jumping into a nearby chair. She grasped her hands to the back of it as it shimmied across the floor. All of the furniture was moving toward the far wall of the room. They undulated along as if dancing to a dubious waltz.
Anna noticed the room was getting hotter. It burned her throat as the very air around her was being siphoned away. The floor, the walls, and the house itself began to creak and moan. She continued to move toward the wall on her lifeboat; saving her from the hot sea below. Then the wall began to fall away; all was dark beyond it.
Fear gripped her as she stared spellbound into the abyss. She saw something in the darkness looking at her. It smiled with eyes emblazoned gold and scales of bronze and an ebon belly. It was a dragon as large as a house.
Anna looked on in disbelief as the dragon’s throat began to glow. The heat it was generating began to melt her skin. She screamed as she brought her hands up to her face for protection. The beast opened its mouth and belched a raging inferno that engulfed her; searing her flesh. She turned to escape, but was only consumed. Anna closed her eyes and fell backward into the mouth of the creature; swallowed up into the night.
She woke to unimaginable pain; her thoughts conscious and unconscious. It was only a dream, she thought. But was it? The heat that permeated her flesh was real. She wasn’t awake, at least not in the sense that reality understands. Her arms were stretched out to her sides in some sort of makeshift crucifix. Her wrist was bandaged and a tube peeked out from under the wrappings running to an I.V. pole. A thick fluid dripped through the plastic tunnel, burning her veins.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” someone said. Anna looked over to see a nurse standing by the I.V. pole.
“Where am I?” Anna said.
“You’re in a hospital. You were in a terrible accident,” the nurse said.
“Accident, I don’t remember. I was in my apartment. Why can’t I move my arms? It hurts so badly,” Anna said as she tried to put her arms down.
“You were burned over eighty percent of your body. The therapists put splints on your arms to prevent scarring. Just be still I’m giving you something for the pain now.”
“Burned? How? A dragon?” she said.
“A dragon; I don’t think so. But you were engulfed in flames. I think they said a gas leak,” he said.
“When can I get up?”
“Not for a while. The therapists will be back to see you tomorrow. I’m giving you something to help you sleep now.”
“I don’t have time to sleep. I have to get back to school. I’m starting my OT master’s program this semester,” Anna said in protest.
“Occupational Therapy?” he said.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well you won’t be back in school for a while, but you will get very familiar with the OT’s here. There the ones who fabricated the splints. You’ll get to meet them tomorrow, but right now you have to sleep.” He smiled and started the I.V. pump. Thankfully, she fell into a dreamless sleep.
Anna woke the next day to Hell. She was subjected to washings; over and over. Debridement as the therapists called it. Her once tan skin was being replaced by swollen, red patches of ooze. What little skin remained around the burn tissue was sloughed off with scrub brushes and deposited into the drain. The pain was nearly unbearable; tears welled in her eyes. She was brought to the rehab room for fabrication of another splint. The therapist was very gentle, for that Anna was grateful.
“What do you remember about the day you were burned?” he asked as he placed her arm on the table to get a measurement.
“Very little; before I woke up here I dreamed of a dragon,” she said.
“A dragon huh; I suppose that would make sense. Are you a fan of fantasy stories?”
“Yes, a big fan. I was reading a novel about a dragon queen before the accident. I guess I should have been studying.”
“Oh yeah, I heard you were an OT student. Boy, you’ll have some good stories to tell to the rest of the students,” he said. She laughed a little until the movement began to cause her pain.
The OT continued to work with large pieces of thermoplastic until he molded two splints that were noticeably different than the first ones. These held her elbows and wrists in a slight bend. He also made one for the right side of her head as there was significant burning there.
“The working temperature of the water needs to be 150 degrees to make the plastic viable,” he said as he draped the piece over her arm; working it as an artist would a clay sculpture. “The splints are necessary to keep scars from adhering to the muscle tissue underneath the skin. That would cause a contracture of the joint,” he said smiling. “You can impress your professor with that one day.”
Anna just smiled this time; she didn’t think she had another laugh in her. It had been a very long day and all she could think about was getting back to her bed and relaxing, with no one to poke or prod at her.
Once in bed, the nurse came in to give her some pain medication. He turned out the light and Anna was fast asleep. Dreams did not evade her this evening, although the terrors did.
This time she was flying; soaring into the clouds. She held a set of reigns in her hands and was planted firmly in some sort of saddle; her feet resting in stirrups. Anna was the dragon queen from her book and she was riding Kull; a thousand-year-old dragon. She pulled down on the reigns and the dragon flew straight up spiraling. Anna laughed; becoming dizzy as though she were drunk.
They soared above the clouds for a minute and then nose-dived; the dragon’s wings enveloped her like a blanket to protect her from the wind shear. As they got closer to the ground, the dragon opened its wings and leveled out skimming its wingtips through the water of a large lake. The butterfly’s in Anna’s stomach were the most intense she’d ever known. She suddenly felt very alive; a feeling she never wanted to lose.
Anna pulled back gently on the reigns and she and her dragon landed on the shore of the lake. She dismounted from the saddle and walked over to the water. It was a deep, dark pool; very cold to the touch.
As she leaned forward she could see her reflection. She touched the side of her head feeling the road map of scars. She pulled up the sleeves of her shirt; more scars. This is me. She thought. This will always be me. Anna closed her eyes and began to cry.
Then she felt something warm and rough on the side of her face. Anna opened her eyes to see her dragon licking her. The fearsome beast that once terrified her dreams was now as gentle as a pet dog. He’s kissing me; how strange. She thought.
Anna woke to nursing assistants cleaning her. Another day of therapy loomed in her future. Within the hour she was in the therapy room again with the OT that constructed her splints the day before.
“How did you sleep with the splints I made you?” he asked.
“Not bad, although I had some crazy dreams,” Anna replied.
“Yes but this dragon wasn’t as terrible. I was flying on him and he…”
“He what?” the therapist said.
“He kissed me; strangely enough, he kissed me; right on the side of my head where the burns are.”
“So you were licked by the flames and kissed by a dragon. That sounds like the makings of a good fantasy story. But instead of fantasy, you’re living it,” he said.
“I suppose I am.”
Anna continued on in therapy healing from the scars imposed on her. They were still visible, but her sheer determination to rise above her injury was phenomenal. She finished school and used her experiences to help other patients she encountered.
She still dreamed from time to time of soaring heights and low points to overcome. Sometimes when she looked in a mirror, she would touch the side of her face and remember that she survived the Dragon’s kiss.