This morning, the headache was back with a vengeance-- woke up at 5 and couldn't go back to sleep. I also woke up with a wicked craving for a Pepsi, so I finally gave up on going back to sleep, got up, took two migraine pills and as I write this, I am sipping the oh-so-bad-for-me beverage. Of course, Patrick turned the AC off last night, so it's very stuffy in the house now, but my thoughts are of winter and ice. Last week, I got something of a fan letter from a little girl who read one of my children's stories, "The Ice Dragon."
There are two sources of inspiration for this story. First, was Neil Gaiman's short-short story "Nicholas Was." (Read it-- it's less than 100 words.) I first read the story in Smoke and Mirrors, in which Neil included a brief introduction to say that he wrote the story to include in a batch of Christmas cards for close friends one year. Ever since, I'd been enamored with the idea of writing Christmas stories to give away as gifts. My favorite gifts have always been handmade. Mind you, my stories will never be 100 words or less, or even 1,000 words or less-- that's just not how I roll. Well, "The Ice Dragon" was my first successful attempt.
The other source of inspiration was my best friend and co-author, Coyote Kishpaugh. The series we co-write together is technically considered urban fantasy. I enjoy writing fantasy stories, but funnily enough, I don't care to read much fantasy. Especially high fantasy. I'm such a literary snob, in fact, it's become an on-going joke between Coyote and me. So, as we've spent six years working together now, he loves to needle me on the subject of introducing certain fantastical creatures into our series: "Dragons?" "No. No dragons." "Just one dragon?" "NO! No dragons!" "Just a little dragon?" "NO! DRAGONS! EVER!"
So, for my first Christmas story, I wrote a little fantasy for Coyote and his kids that features the eponymous critter. Here's a little excerpt from the story:
Gracie led him over to the tree, where one package remained, wrapped in silver wrapping paper with a blue ribbon. She picked it up and handed it to him. “Here,” she said. “This is for you.”
Somewhat awkwardly, he opened it. Inside was a solid gold ornament of a swan. Inscribed on the back was, Merry Christmas from the Calls.
“Look,” Gracie said, taking the swan from him and looping it on the blue ribbon from his present. “You can wear it like this. And look—”
She took his hand and led him through the dining area. She went up to the table where her father was sitting and removed two of the holly wreaths from the centerpieces. Then she led him through the dining area, off to the side of the lobby, through a pair of glass doors.
They stepped outside into a kind of little flagstone courtyard, enclosed by a wrought-iron rail. It was very quiet. They couldn’t even hear the band playing inside. In the spring, it must have made a pretty little garden, though at the moment, there were just little evergreens in the stone pots, trimmed with ribbons. It was very cold. The black wrought-iron was icy, its pointed spokes encased in a thick, crystal layer. But Gracie didn’t seem to mind the cold, so he didn’t either.
They walked over and stood beside the rail. “This is my favorite place,” Gracie said. She took one of the holly wreaths and put it on his head. “I crown you the Christmas King,” she said. Then she put a wreath on her own head. “And I’ll be the Christmas Queen.”
At that moment, a light snow began to fall. Both children looked up, Kenneth astonished, and Gracie pleased. As they looked, both of their hands touched the rail.
Suddenly, the railing moved. They jumped back as it rose and curved up, the spokes forming the ridges on a lizard-like back. Clawed feet appeared, a pair of bat-like wings, and finally, a head. It turned towards them, blinking, its nostrils quivering.
The mouth opened, revealing a slithery black tongue. Fire shot out.
It was not a very big dragon, only a little bigger than a cat, so there was not a lot of fire, but all the same, Gracie screamed, and she and Kenneth jumped back.
The fire melted the dragon’s wrought-iron center so it flowed like molten black blood, flooding the icy body with darkness. The black solidified into hard, rubbery scales, the ice melting into a mottled blue and white pattern over the black.
It stood for a moment, still balanced on the wrought-iron poles that made up the gate, and then the dragon lifted one great forepaw, then a rear paw, flexing, seeming to test its new body. Then it yawned, stretching like a cat, its rear arching into the air, claws splayed.
At last, it sat up on its forepaws and turned to Kenneth and Gracie, blinking its great black eyes. It flicked its black tongue, and lashed its long, blue-white tail, which had one great black spike on the end of it.
“Thank you, children,” the dragon whispered in a low, purring voice. “I’ve been asleep ever so long, and now, I would like nothing more . . . than a snack.”
With that, it leapt off the gate, spreading its webby black wings, and launched itself straight at them.
Both Kenneth and Gracie yelled this time, and leapt out of the way. But the dragon was not after them.
With a snort of its great nostrils, steam shot out and gusted the glass doors open. The dragon flew inside the shopping center.
Kenneth and Gracie stared after it for a moment, utterly aghast. Then ran in after it.
And here is the nice bit of feedback I received from a little girl named Jess:
"Sup Lauren. I read 'The Ice Dragon' over break, haven't gotten a chance to read the other one though. It was really good, I especially liked the riddle. At first I didn't get it but after I found out the answer I saw all the different clues. Like the hint to Sodom and Gomorrah and 'to the thirsty am a double blade'. I didn't understand what the necklace was for, but after the swan died and it went cold I realized that it was sort of like her heart. The part with the dragon gave me chills at first, and the wreath crowns were cool. You really did a good job, it felt like I was there. Thanks for letting me read it, probably one of my fave kid stories."