This story is by Mallory O’Bier and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The eyes of a dragon hoard more wisdom and experience than can be found in a millennium. They contain mysteries and tales as innumerable as the stars in the sky. They have seen the wind dance beneath their wings, observed the rise and fall of countless civilizations; they have witnessed the birth of men and will inevitably bear witness to their destruction. They command power, enough power to bring an empire to its knees, to rock the entire world on its hinges and alter the scales of fate. And once you’ve caught the briefest glimpse of the wealth that lusters within them, you will never again be the same as you were.
This must sound pretty fantastical to you. After all, even if you have crossed paths with a dragon before, you probably did so without realizing it. Adapting to alter our perception of them, dragons prefer to wander freely among us unnoticed, continually observing, learning, and sharing some of their knowledge with the world in the subtlest of ways.
Wearing glasses to conceal the brilliance of their eyes, dragons tend to frequent cafes and libraries and bookstores. They take on a variety of occupations, sometimes becoming professors, scientists, or authors.
If you have ever bumped into a dragon at the library, they will probably be carrying a vast armload of books, for there is no human pleasure or occupation dragons enjoy so much as reading. They devour books voraciously: both figuratively and sometimes literally, which occasionally accounts for why borrowed books turn up missing.
That’s actually where I first met a dragon: my local library.
I was searching for a fresh mystery, having read every Agatha Christie novel on the shelves, when I came around the corner of a row and smacked into a walking pile of books higher than my head. We all fell over: first me, then the books on top of me, and then the carrier on top of the books.
“Ouch!” I rubbed my forehead where the corner of a hardcover dented it, and discovered a stranger’s face just inches away from my own. His glasses, large thick ones that appeared to be at least fifty-years-old in style, had fallen askew; and I was struck by a pair of wondrous emerald-green eyes, inlaid with flaming sunbursts haloing pupils deep and black and shaped like diamonds.
Then I gazed into them. I saw all of the things I have previously described to you, and then some I couldn’t describe at all no matter how hard I tried to put them into words.
His hand came between us, and I blinked as he pushed the glasses back in place. They now looked like ordinary hazel eyes. I felt so strange…
“I’m so sorry, are you okay?” His concerned voice sounded unusually deep and velvety. He helped me to my feet. His hand was uncomfortably hot to the touch, and when I pulled away my own had reddened. Staring at it, I swayed woozily.
“I—I’m not sure…”
I don’t fully remember what happened next, but I think I threw up on his shoes before I passed out.
I woke up in a hospital bed with a raging headache, my throat dry and scratchy. When I turned over, there was the stranger sitting with a book open in his lap, reading. He lifted his eyes and they met mine. They appeared perfectly normal. Had I been mistaken?
Had he brought me here? What did he want with me?
He set the book aside and leaned toward me. “How are you feeling now?”
“Terrible.” We stared at each other awkwardly.
The air between us suddenly rippled like water, and I saw clear through the glasses to the incredible eyes I had glimpsed at the library. Were the glasses special somehow?
“Who… or what… are you?” I asked.
“Just as I thought. We need to talk.” The eyes gleamed, and I shivered involuntarily.
“But first,” he added, walking to me and removing his glasses, “take a deep breath.”
Mesmerized, I complied just as he leaned in close and exhaled in my face. His breath was smoky and warm, and I choked a little as I breathed in some of it. My headache disappeared.
“Yes! How did you—”
“Oh,” I said. I hadn’t exactly believed in magic when I got up that morning, but… I wasn’t so sure anymore. Anything seemed possible now.
He stood there, quietly observing me. Didn’t he want to talk? What was he waiting for?
“So…” I cleared my throat loudly.
He handed me a cup of water from a nearby tray.
“Thanks.” I lifted it to my lips, hesitating. Could he be trying to poison me? I eyed it, then ventured another glance at him.
I forgot all about the cup in my hand. He looked even less human now then he did earlier. What was he?
I thought I had spied the secret in his eyes during our first encounter, but it still seemed too insane for me to accept.
As I watched him though, his hair became streaked with red, traces of smoke puffed out of his growing nostrils, and the outline of scales glimmered faintly on his skin, like heat was pulsing through his pores…
“The magic no longer works on you, it seems.” He smiled at me, a broad, crooked, pointy-toothed smile.
“Yes,” he answered my unspoken question. “I am a dragon. This is good luck, you know. You should feel honored. You are the first person to have truly seen me in…”
He leaned his head back to think, and his neck was long. His skin, or scales, as it were, had taken on an ebony, greenish hue, and great, batlike wings were materializing out of thin air. He barely fit in the small hospital room, every second appearing more and more dragonlike, and less and less humanlike.
“… at least a couple hundred years, give or take a hundred.”
“I don’t understand. If you were disguised, why didn’t you avoid me after—”
“After you saw my real eyes?” He snorted through flared nostrils, his poise reminding me of an Arabian horse, but a thousand times more magnificent and powerful.
He continued, “The magic only works if you’ve never seen them. And if you’ve seen one dragon, you’ve seen them all. Or rather, you will.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, this kind of mental magic only works on humans who have never broken the spell. You will see all sorts of interesting dragons now. None quite as magnificent or powerful as I am, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“What should I do then?”
“Do? There isn’t anything to do. You’ll just have to live with it.”
“You’re not going to hurt me?”
“No, of course not. Why would I do a thing like that? You can’t help being a human, any more than I can help being a dragon. Isn’t that so?”
I nodded slowly.
“If you don’t understand me, then say so. But it hardly matters. I can read your thoughts, after all.”
“What?” I could feel that headache coming on again. “You can what?”
The dragon’s mouth didn’t move, but I heard his velvety voice replying distinctly in my head, as unobtrusively as if my own thoughts had formed the words. “Only with my glasses off. Eyes are windows to the soul, you know.”
I sank slowly back against the pillows.
Flexing his talons, he replaced his glasses carefully. They looked so odd on a dragon.
“Look, I know this must all be a lot for you to process. I come to the library every Thursday, and always visit that little cafe on the corner afterward. If you have any more questions I’ll be happy to answer them should we meet again. For now, I must bid you a good day. I’ll be late for my flight.”
He walked toward the door, and it swung open without him touching it.
“Goodbye,” I said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say to a dragon.
And just like that, he was gone.
I hadn’t seen the last of him though, nor is he the last dragon I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Honestly, I still don’t know if I see them because I bumped my head, or if they’re real. I quite prefer the latter explanation.
One thing is certain, ever since that first fateful encounter, I view the whole world differently. Not just because I see dragons, but because I’ve looked into their eyes and seen the world as they see it. How I wish I could explain it better!
Considering everything, the only regret I have from my magical experience is how much I’ve been spending on coffee lately.
By the way, if you’d like to taste coffee roasted by a dragon barista, I know a great little cafe on the corner…