Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Change Is Hard

by Jonathan Saville


He stared at the bottle on the table as he slowly took his seat. He knew he was going to drink the potion the sorceress had given him. He had to. Although his parents had assured him his ability to convert would develop eventually, he just couldn't wait. His bungling attempts had embarrassed even himself; sometimes they weren't even complete and he had to create hasty cover-ups before his girlfriend noticed.

But he also knew the changes were not without cost. He had only vague recollections, like waking from a nightmare with a feeling of terror, but not remembering why. It would be several days after he took the elixir before his mind and his proper sight returned. During that time he suspected that he did things he would not be proud of normally, but the ends justified the means. He grabbed the bottle and emptied it in one gulp.

Some time later, he wasn't sure just how much later, he was crouching in the dense underbrush by a trail, waiting. His vision was distorted and he only saw in shades of red. He felt hot with a lusting fever that he only knew one way to sate. Finally, the shape he was looking for came loping down the trail. He coiled into readiness, he would not miss. The jogger never knew what hit her. He sprang from the bushes like the shadow of a cloud passing over the path and hit her so hard she was knocked unconscious. Quickly checking to see they were alone, he dragged her into the trees and up the hill.

When she finally came to she was sore all over. She realized with a start that her mouth and eyes were taped. She tried, very slowly to feel her way around her environment. She was wrapped in a fur of some kind that covered her from neck to toe. Under that she was naked. I wonder where I put my clothes, she thought, not realizing just yet the peril she was in. Then she found the manacle on her leg. She was chained to something! As she moved to try to follow the chain, he was on her. The fur came off and he pressed himself into her savagely. One hand on her buttocks, one on her breast, he raped her again.

She couldn't see and the tape on her mouth ate up her screams. It was over quickly and he tossed her on the leaves and left her. Whimpering silently, she found the fur wrap and curled up on the ground. Please God, get me out of here. I've done nothing to deserve this! she prayed. God was not quite ready to listen.

Again and again over the next two days he ravaged her. She couldn't see and never heard him approach. Each time was silent except for the sound of their bodies colliding. She never even heard him breathing. Time lost all meaning, day or night was all the same. Her life became a surreal survival experience. Then it was over.

She woke up from a nightmare filled sleep because she felt cold. Her fur wrap was gone, her leg chain was gone. She was curled up naked on the ground. At first she was afraid to remove the tape on her mouth and eyes. She lay still and listened as hard as she could for any sound of him. Finally, she convinced herself that he must be gone and she removed the tape. She was in a small clearing, maybe fifteen or twenty feet across, covered with soft, long grass. The branches of the big trees around the edge completely covered the spot, almost blocking out the sun that was just nicely risen. Looking around, all she could see were trees and grass. She decided to walk down hill as she thought that's where the jogging path she had been on a lifetime ago would be. When she reached the bottom of the valley she stayed just inside the tree line, huddled against the morning chill, and waited for someone to appear to help her.

####

I'm not really a cat person, and Vicki, my wife, is not really a dog person. However, I managed to convince her that the boys would be better off with a dog than a cat, so we got a dog. At least, I thought we got a dog. Anyone familiar with the Shiba Inu breed of small hunting dogs knows that shortly after they're born their dog, "How can I make you happy, let's play" brains are replaced with the cat, "You can't seriously expect me to listen to you" ones. These are the most independent, difficult to train dogs in the universe. But they're also the cutest, most loyal, and protective of 'their' family that you can find. Our Sheba (the boys named her, not me) stood about a foot high at the shoulder, had the curly tail of Japanese hunting dogs, and looked like a small red fox.

Since the boys had moved out, walking the dog became our responsibility. Usually we stayed to the trails around home, but today we decided to go to one of the many river valley parks that grace our small city. For some reason Sheba has a distinctly undoglike fear of car rides, so she curled up on Vicki's lap and pretended to be at home for the entire twenty minutes it took us to reach the park. Once there though, she was quite ready to go for a run. We had learned a long time ago that Sheba did not respond to 'come here' commands, so we kept her on leash all the time.

With Sheba in the lead, we set off jogging down the trail towards the bottom of the valley. We had been going at a fairly decent pace for about ten or fifteen minutes when Sheba suddenly stopped and stood stock-still, looking up the gentle slope to the tree line. Vicki and I looked at each other in disbelief. Sheba never stopped running until we were exhausted and had to call a halt to the 'walk'.

"There aren't any bears in the park, are there?" I asked Vicki.

"If there are I'm glad I can sprint faster than you." she answered quickly.

"I love you too dear," I called over my shoulder as I went to see what had Sheba's attention.

Vicki and I were standing next to Sheba, scanning the tree line for anything that might have caused the dog to stop in its tracks. I saw the figure just as the plaintive cry reached us.

"Help me, please!" we heard at the same time.

I pointed to the crouching girl and all three of us moved cautiously forward toward her. We were fairly close when I realized she was naked. I grabbed Vicki's arm and handed her my jacket. "Wait." I said. I took my wallet, phone and glasses out of various pockets and slipped off my sweat pants. Vicki was a bit shocked but realized quickly that the poor girl needed them more than I did.

I remained some yards away while Vicki took the clothes to the girl. She was getting dressed when I noticed that I had dropped Sheba's leash to take off my jacket. But she was staying put. Sheba had gone to the girl with Vicki and was standing, protectively, at the girl's side. As I watched, Sheba took five or six steps uphill and growled one of those, "don't you dare come near here" growls and went back to the girl.

I dialed 9-1-1 and kept my eye on Sheba. When I was connected to the emergency operator I explained where we where and that there was a girl here that looked like she had been attacked.

She said she would send police and ambulance personnel right away and that I should stay on the line until they got to us.

"Thanks," I said, "we'll be here. She doesn't seem to want to move."

Sheba was the one that interested me now. Every few minutes she would take her little run up the hill and growl at some unseen threat. Then she would retreat to stand by the girl. I had never seen her be polite, let alone protective, of anyone other than Vicki, myself, or the boys. This was either a special lady or Sheba sensed that she was hurt and needed protection.

The paramedics arrived at just about the same time the police helicopter found us. Three squad cars arrived moments later. (I didn't know you could drive cars on the bike path.) My tranquil morning walk with Vicki and Sheba had come to a screeching halt. I did have enough sense to grab Sheba's leash and pulled her back to me before she had a chance to chew on any of the officers. Shibas aren't very subtle before an attack, they growl, show their fangs, and the hair on their neck stands straight up. She would have thought nothing of going after all of them to protect our mystery friend.

The scene was one of controlled chaos: police shouting orders and questions at Vicki, the girl, and me; paramedics trying to question the girl and offer whatever help they could. And Sheba, just dying to sink her teeth into someone, it didn't seem to matter who. Over the next hour or so we told our story at least six times to different people. "Why did the girl have my clothes on?" seemed to be the most favourite question; next to "Just how is your marriage going right now?" Sometimes, being in the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing, turns out badly.

The girl, it seemed, just wanted to go home. "Just take me home," she kept repeating. "My boyfriend will be worried about me."

The officer in charge set her straight, as only police officers can do. "Ms Miller," he told her, "your boyfriend did not report you missing, your boss did. He said it was entirely unlike you to miss work without calling in. Where do you suppose your boyfriend is?"

"I, I don't know." she stammered. "Sometimes he goes to the cabin to write or paint. He stays a few days and then comes home. He likes his privacy when he's creating."

"You two live together do you?" he asked.

"No, not yet." she answered and gave his address. "He can't find out about this, we're going to be married and he will expect me to be pure for that night."

"Well, Ms Miller..." the officer began. But he didn't get a chance to finish. Vicki was close enough to hear what was going on and had had enough of the pompous interviewer.

"April," Vicki broke in, "we'll go with you to the hospital. Don't pay any attention to these morons; they don't have the sensitivity of a rock. It will be up to you to decide if you tell anyone else about your rape, but I'll tell you, as a married person, truth will out eventually, and it's better sooner than later."

With that, she put her arm around our new friend and led her to the paramedics who were waiting to take her to the hospital. "Can I go with her?" Vicki asked.

"If it's okay with her, it's ok with us," came the reply.

Vicki squeezed April's shoulder. "You're ok now April, let us help you through this."

"Ok," came the weak reply. "Thanks for caring."

With that we were on to the hospital. Sheba and I waited in the parking lot while Vicki and April went through more hospital and police questioning. Two hours later, when Vicki finally emerged from the building, she was shaking her head.

"That girl is so worried that her boyfriend won't marry her because of this she's not going to tell him. I just know that this is not going to end well Thomas, I just know it."

"Vic," I say, "you've done everything you could, including irritating the police. She will do what she will do and there's nothing we can do to stop her."

I was just about to drive away when a police cruiser pulled up beside me and sounded its siren. I rolled down the window and the officer in the passenger seat of the cruiser did the same.

"Mr Thomas Eberle?" he asked.

"Who wants to know?" I answer belligerently.

"Senior Detective Malcolm Bass." he answered. "I have some questions concerning the April Miller case."

"I've told your people at least half a dozen times all I know." I say.

"Yes, but I would like to hear it myself. She was wearing your clothes and the pants were sweaty, suggesting a struggle." the detective replies.

"Read their notes, and if you still have questions, hire better police officers. Good night detective." I roll up the window and start driving away.

"I think that went well." says Vicki sarcastically.

"Just don't speed or do rolling stops for the next few weeks." I warn. "They will be watching us."

When we got home, Sheba ignored us. I'm not sure if she was mad because her run got interrupted or because she didn't get to bite any police. At any rate, I suspected our involvement in this event was done. I hoped April would tell her fiancÚ, but there was nothing we could do to force her hand.

####

Two weekends later we stayed for a meet and greet for new members at our church. We were chatting with several couples when we were joined by April and her boyfriend. I don't think she would have chosen our little group had she known we were there as she turned deathly pale as soon as she recognized us. I pretended we'd never met and introduced ourselves. Frank Conlan, her boyfriend, seemed like a nice enough guy. He was a published author, mostly non-fiction historical stuff, and an artist that had actually sold some paintings.

Despite our easy conversation with Frank, April seemed quite distressed and soon excused herself to the ladies room. A wink to Vicki was all it took to have her offer to show April where the closest one was, and they were off. The other couples drifted away to other groups and Frank and I found some new people to talk to. Frank had been in the city for only a few years, coming from the Balkans during the turmoil there. He had an easy way about him that allowed people to talk freely to him. I found him quite enjoyable.

When the ladies returned it was Vicki that had the exit strategy. "We need to get going, hon," she said, "We promised the neighbors we'd help set up for the block party."

"Ok, we're off. Pleasure to meet you all." I said as Vicki lead me out the door.

"I'm expecting you to tell me that April hasn't bothered to tell Frank of her ordeal," I commented on the way to the car.

"Not only hasn't she told him, she's having all kinds of problems -- stomach aches, headaches, back pain, nightmares," Vicki replied. "She's a wreck, physically and emotionally, and she doesn't seem to know how to get help. She's so worried about the wedding and pleasing Frank that she may be a corpse by the time they're supposed to say 'I do'."

"We've done what we can, Vic," I said consolingly. "We can't make her tell Frank or see a doctor. All we can do is listen if she wants to talk."

"I know," she answered, "but I would like to be able to do more than that."

"You're right," I replied, "it really doesn't seem like much, but the ball's in her court now."

The ride home was pretty quiet as each of us tried to think of some way to impress ourselves more firmly into April's life. There was a small flashing light going off in the back of my mind that was trying to warn me that things might get much worse before they got better. That, and the police ghost car that was following us, made me think it might be a good time for a holiday.

####

Several weeks later Vicki, Sheba, and I were at the church breakfast picnic. Sheba was there to run and growl menacingly at the children, Vicki was there to make sure Sheba didn't actually follow through on any of her threats, and I was there to cook. I'm pretty good on a grill, but I don't think there's enough salt and pepper to make instant scrambled eggs taste good. I was ladling on another batch and waiting for the hissing sound that tells you it's time to scrape them out of the pan when I saw a plume of smoke come out of a stand of trees about half a mile away. It was going east to west and soon dissipated in the gentle morning breeze. I was actually more curious about my first thought on seeing the puff than I was at the smoke. Dragon breath, I thought. I didn't know there were any dragons in the park.

I went back to cooking the eggs and just idly wondered where that thought had come from. Grandmother must be on my mind, I decided. She, her husband, and her mother were the only dragons I knew, but they took human form most of the time and took great pains to hide their true nature. Probably just someone setting off fireworks, I thought. But why would they do that in the morning?

Yes, you heard me right. And I wasn't speaking metaphorically. Grandmother's human name is Iris Chen, and she really is a dragon. During our first encounter I sensed there was something special about her, I even found out she was somewhere around five thousand years old and her mother was the Primordial Lady of the Emerald Cloud, a lady perfected as a Chinese heavenly immortal. But it wasn't until our second adventure, deep in a mountain cave in Peru, in the presence of Ausangate, god of the mountain, that I discovered she was a dragon.

Eventually, 'Wild Bill' Morrison came to relieve me of my egg duties. 'Wild Bill' was anything but wild, but I suspect that's why the name stuck. I found Vicki chatting with two other people that had brought dogs. She had Sheba on a very short leash as the dog is anything but sociable around her own kind.

"Why don't we go for a bit of a jog with the dogs?" I suggested. "I saw some smoke coming from that bunch of trees over there and I'd like to see what it might have been." General agreement all around and we started out at a slow trot towards the woods. The dogs all wanted to run, not jog, so we had our hands full reining them in. As we rounded the curve in the path we saw someone come stumbling out of the bush for which we were headed. The person seemed almost drunk, weaving down the slight slope towards the path, falling every few steps, and then dragging themselves up again. We picked up our pace and headed towards our mystery figure.

Before we reached the stumbling man I knew it was Frank Conlan, April's fiancÚ. I'd served them eggs and sausages earlier and then had watched them wander off down the path, arm in arm after breakfast. That would have been more than an hour ago, maybe two. When we reached Frank I noticed a couple things right away. First, the dogs backed away from him, almost as if they were afraid. Second, he was pretty scraped up, like he'd run through the trees in a hurry to get away from something. As much as Sheba disliked any kind of company, I'd never seen her back away from anything. She was definitely uncomfortable around Frank. The thought struck me that this was similar to her behavior when we had found April after her attack. I decided I needed to see what was in those woods!

####

I've never been an order giving type person. I'm more of a live and let live kind, unless you cross me or suggest something stupid. Today was different. "Vic, go back and bring as many as you can here; Cheryl, Freda, keep the dogs and see what you can do for Frank; Jim, Bob, let's go up the hill and see if we can find April, or at least what happened to Frank.

And we were off. Up the gentle slope and into the trees. The forest here was not that thick and we could see fifteen or twenty feet ahead with no problem. Sheba had changed her attitude completely. Now, instead of backing off, she was full speed ahead. She plunged forward like a small version of a Sherman tank, leaping over dead fall, ignoring bushes; she led us up the increasingly steep slope. Within minutes we came upon a small clearing where the land leveled out. It was about thirty feet or so across and the grass in the middle was calf high. The first thing I noticed was Sheba stopping, the second was a foot protruding out of the higher grass.

I held my hand up to signal the others to stop. "Stay put," I commanded, "this looks bad and the police won't like our being here first." Jim and Bob held their position on the edge of the clearing and I walked slowly and carefully towards the foot. It was uglier than I dared think. April's throat had a huge gash across it, more than half an inch wide, too big for any normal knife. But what commanded my attention was her torso. From several inches below her breasts to her thighs, she had been crushed. It looked like a huge foot had stamped down on her. Make that a huge, clawed foot; a dragon's hind foot!

Thankfully I had remembered to bring my cell phone. I took a few pictures of April and sent them off to grandmother with a plea for help. Then I called 9-1-1. I had only just started to explain my situation to the emergency operator when Senior Detective Malcolm Bass appeared at the edge of the clearing.

"If you'd have paid more attention to April than me maybe this wouldn't have happened." I yelled at him. I threw the phone at him; "You tell the operator how you let this woman get beaten again, you jerk!"

I went to join Jim and Bob. I had to drag Sheba away from her post by the corpse; somehow she'd attached herself to April.

Unfortunately Bass actually managed to catch the phone; I'd hoped to give him a concussion. He spoke curtly to the operator as he moved around April's body. When he was done he just dropped the phone on the ground. "You people can go back to the picnic site and stay there." he said. "We'll be questioning everyone that was here today. Mr. Eberle, I expect you to be especially available as this is the second, and apparently the last occasion you've had to be involved with Ms. Miller."

"As I said, detective, if you'd paid more attention to the right things and less to your fantasies, this might never have happened." I walked purposefully through his 'crime scene' to retrieve my phone. "I have put in a call to an expert I know that may be inclined to help you with this case." I said confidently. "She has some experience with the phenomena that you're about to deal with. If I were you I'd heed her advice." His silence fed my confidence so I continued. "I'd also let Mr. Conlan have a day or so to recover. I don't think he's even capable of telling you what happened here right now."

"It's pretty straight forward," grumbled Bass, "girl's throat was slashed and then she was stomped on, end of story."

"Really?" I reply astonished. "What type of knife leaves that wide a scar, what foot do you know of is large enough and taloned enough to leave that impression on her body, and what flame thrower can you imagine being carried up her to singe all those trees?" I pointed to perhaps two dozen trees that had had their branches scorched.

"I'm sure there's a ready explanation for all of these things Mr. Eberle." he answered. "You just run along now with your friends and wait for the professionals to do their job."

"You're an ass," I spat out, "and you're going to get people killed, hopefully yourself included, unless you listen to what grandmother has to say. Hello, what's this?" I had kneeled down to pick my phone out of the long grass when I sparkle caught my eye. I spread the grass apart so detective Bass could get a look.

"I think that's April's engagement ring." I told him. "I only saw it once before, but it's big enough to leave a lasting impression."

"Leave it." Bass commands. "The CSI group will note it in their findings. Now get out of my crime scene and make sure your available for questioning later. Oh, and I really don't need any advice from your grandmother."

"You have my phone number." I answered as I retreated to join Jim and Bob for the long hike back to the picnic. "If you eventually realize how far in over your head you are with this case you'll want to talk with Iris Chen, my grandmother."

Bass raised an eyebrow. He didn't say, "Funny, you don't look like a Chen," but he wanted to.

"She's not really my grandmother," I growled. "It's just a pet name I have for her. And I wouldn't press Frank too hard today, watch him, but let him be. I don't think he can handle much right now."

"As you say, I have your number if I need any advice," Bass said.

Jim, Bob, and I headed back to the picnic site. The other two had decided that I'm entirely too disrespectful of authority so they picked up the pace and ran back to their version of sanity. I'm weighing two options: one, Frank Conlan was a dragon, something set him off and he killed April; or two, Frank and/or April had somehow managed to make an enemy of a dragon. The stomp mark on April's mangled body was really unmistakable, the slit throat would match a dragon talon, and the singed leaves could be explained by dragon fire. I fervently hoped that grandmother would take the time to help us in this. But dragons are funny, they can seem very uncaring were human suffering is concerned. Perhaps too many encounters with knights bound on rescuing damsels in distress.

####

There was a small gaggle of people surrounding Frank when I got back to the main group. The EMS people had bandaged him up and were trying to give him a tetanus shot that he was refusing rather strongly.

"Frank," I called over the general din, "let us give you a ride home. You've had more than enough excitement for one day."

"But my car, I'll need my car." he argued.

"Don't worry; the cops will bring it when they come to ask questions." I assured him. "You need to be somewhere quiet for a bit to regain some composure"

"Ok." He tossed his keys to the nearest officer and gave him his address.

I rounded up Vicki and Sheba, herded them and Frank to the car and took off. I was pretty sure that Bass would be breathing down Frank's neck soon, and if I was right about Frank being a dragon, I wanted to give him time to cool off before that happened. As much as I disliked Bass, no one should wind up like April, not even an arrogant cop. Frank directed us to his house and as he was getting out I asked if there was anything he needed.

"Just April," he sighed and headed for the front door.

We stayed in the driveway long enough to make sure he got inside and then we left.

"Quite the picnic, don't you think?" asked Vicki.

"It would have made you sick," I replied "Poor April didn't have a ghost of a chance. I'm sure it was a dragon."

"Oh great, here we go again!" exclaimed Vicki. "I suppose 'grandmother' will be coming around again to help, just like she did on our vacation."

"What happened then wasn't her fault, Vic," I argue, without any real hope of getting any sympathy for my view.

"Just keep me out of it, ok?" she demanded.

We had a quiet ride home.

####

I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the door bell the next morning at quarter past seven. No one I know gets up that early on Sunday morning unless they're preaching. I pull on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and head for the front door. It was grandmother and Norman and she was holding some blown up prints of the pictures I'd sent her.

"Thomas," she began, "it's always nice to see you, but these had better be real." She waved the prints in front of me. "If you've thought it would be cute to play a joke on a dragon I fear you've left your senses."

"Those are definitely real." I assured her. "Let me put some tea on and I'll tell you all I know." I led them into the kitchen and put the kettle on. A fairly sleepy Vicki joined us with hellos all around. For some reason I've yet to figure out, Vicki and grandmother are rather cold to one another. Since neither of them will admit they have a problem, I just keep being a man and loving them both.

Once tea was made and served I started explaining to grandmother and Norman what I knew of the situation. "The first time we met April she had been the victim of a horrific two days of being held in the woods and raped repeatedly. The police still have me on their suspect list. We met several weeks later at a church social, she and her fiancÚ are, or were, new members of our church. April was deathly afraid that we'd let slip something of her attack. She was adamant about not telling Frank anything. We had other things to do so we left after telling her that keeping a secret like that could only lead to trouble later on."

"Did she seem happy with Frank?" asked Norman.

"For the brief time we were together she seemed on edge but Frank seemed like quite a likeable guy." I replied. "He spoke easily, listened his fair share, and generally appeared like he was enjoying both April and the rest of us."

"Where did these pictures come from?" grandmother pressed on.

"Yesterday we had the church picnic." I continued my story. "While I was taking my turn at the grill I saw a puff of white smoke come from a glade of trees about half a mile away. For some reason dragon fire came immediately to mind, although there was no reason to suspect any such thing. Sometime later, maybe half an hour or so, six of us headed for the woods to check out what might have happened. We came across Frank, stumbling out of the trees like he was drunk. He was scratched up pretty badly. What I noticed was that the dogs, all three, backed away from him, like they were afraid of him.

"I left the ladies to look after Frank and the other two men and I set off up the hill and into the trees. We eventually found April in a small clearing. The pictures I sent you show you what we found. It was truly awful." I stopped to take a sip of tea.

"Can we visit with Frank?" asked Norman.

"If the cops don't have him, I know where he lives." I said. "I can take you there, but I don't have a phone number for him, I'm not sure I even know his last name." I looked at Vicki to see if she wanted to add anything, but she just shook her head.

"Well, let's start doing what we came here to do Norman." said grandmother. "Lead the way Thomas, we'll ride with you to Frank's. If he's not there we'll carry on to the police station. I just hope we don't find it in flames by the time we get there."

"Wait a minute," I said, thinking out loud, "I've got the detective's phone number. He hates me but he might save us a trip." I called Bass on his cell.

"Senior Detective Malcolm Bass." I heard as he picked up.

"Senior Detective Bass," I said, "it's Thomas Eberle. Do you have Frank Conlan in custody?"

"Why would I bother to illuminate your dark night of ignorance?" he asked.

"Because I have people here who are willing to help you save some lives," I answered hurriedly. "Frank is more special than you can imagine and my friends can help you in dealing with him."

"Are you're talking about your 'grandmother'?" The way he said 'grandmother' made it clear that any friend or relative of mine was no friend of his. "I'm not taking advice from your relatives while you're still a suspect in all the crimes on my calendar."

"Detective, do you have Frank or not?" I asked in exasperation.

"No, somehow he gave my men the slip and he wasn't at home when we went to get him this morning." he answered flatly. "Do you know where he is?"

"Not a clue," I replied truthfully. "You have the bus and plane terminals covered?"

"You think he'll run?" Bass sounded surprised.

"I really don't know," I said, "but if you find him, please be careful. He's not what you think he is. He could as easily wipe out a squad of police as I could beat you at chess. Give me a call if you find him." I hung up before he could protest my assumptions about his chess skills. An idea had come to me.

"Grandmother, do you think, if Frank is really a dragon, and is responsible for April's death, that he'd go back to the park where she was killed?"

"He might. Does he really know the police are involved?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," I answered. "He was pretty out of it when we took him home. He may not even realize that he's a suspect."

"Let's go to the park." suggested Norman. "It's likely that that is the last real remembrance he has. He may not even realize that April is dead."

We were just gathering up to leave when my cell went off. "Mr. Eberle, Bass here. I just got the report from the coroner... Did you know April was pregnant?"

"Really, detective, we weren't that close." I replied. "Do you think it could be because of the rape?"

"Unlikely," he responded. "The child was Frank's."

"Are you positive?" I demanded. "They seemed like a couple that was waiting for the wedding night for their first time."

"All I can tell you is that the timing was about right for the assault, but the child was definitely his. His blood type is pretty rare, and the fetus had the same type."

"Thanks for the call, Bass," I sighed. "Just when you think you know someone..."

"Welcome to my world," he said as he hung up.

"We have a new ballgame." I announced to everyone. "April was pregnant, about four or five weeks, and the baby was Frank's. Does this make any sense to anyone?"

Grandmother went pensive for several moments, glanced at Norman, and then gave me a challenging look. "We desperately need to find Frank." she said. "I think he has more problems than we ever thought."

We climbed into the beautiful Mercedes AMG that Grandmother had gave me as part of my payment for getting her her babies -- the stories about dragons hoarding treasure have some truth to them -- and headed for the park. I was really confused. April and Frank had said they were waiting for the wedding to be together sexually and they seemed very sincere, both of them. But April was pregnant with Frank's child. It just didn't compute. I was missing something.

We arrived at the park and I led the others towards the clearing where I had found April's mangled body. We were almost to the site when I heard something stamping around. I looked at grandmother questioningly. "It's a dragon," she whispered. "Didn't you hear it when we got out of the car?"

"No I didn't." I said defensively. "My ears are only human. And you didn't think to tell me?"

"Don't worry child," she said, "we'll look after you."

When we reached the small open space we saw a blue-green dragon stomping around the perimeter and wringing its claws.

"Frank?" I yell.

It stopped and stared at the four of us. I wasn't sure if we were going to be roasted by dragon fire, stomped to death like April, or simply ignored. Dragon intentions are impossible to read for humans.

For several long moments the dragon simply stared at us; then it began what turned out to be a challenging transformation. It took almost a minute to complete the change from dragon to Frank, something that I've seen grandmother do in a heartbeat. When the change was complete he said simply, "So you know."

"You have trouble changing. Has it always been this bad?" asked Norman.

"Worse usually," confided Frank. "Without the potion it takes forever for me to change."

"Potion?" Grandmother asked, frowning.

"I take a bottle once a month." replied Frank. "I get it from a sorceress."

"What happens when you take it?" demanded grandmother. "Can you remember anything about your time in dragon form?"

"Not really." Frank admits. "I'm usually in a red fog for two or three days."

"A red fog, you idiot!" yells grandmother. "Do you have any idea of the damage you do in that fog? Do you even know where you are or who you're with?"

"I just wanted to be normal!" Frank answers loudly. "I see dragons like you that skip back and forth between forms with no effort at all and I'm stuck with this problem. I took what I thought was a reasonable way out."

"Did you know April was pregnant?" asked grandmother.

"That's why I killed her, to preserve my honor." Frank replied in a most offended tone. "I couldn't marry a woman that betrayed me before we've been married."

"Frank, the baby was yours!" Grandmother said unbelievingly. "You really didn't know did you?"

"You're wrong!" Frank retorted. "We were here in the glade together for the first time since I'd taken the potion and then gone to the cabin to work. It had been almost a month since I'd actually held her and I could feel the new life inside her. I knew it wasn't mine so I killed her. You cannot blame me for protecting my honor. I can sense that you two are dragons as well; you know the code."

"Frank, I don't know whether to pity you or flame you." Grandmother said. Her diminutive human form blurred and expanded into the shape of a winged reptile the size of an elephant. Norman did likewise, forcing me to step back to make room. "You were so disabled by the changeling potion you took that you couldn't see that April was the person you took in your rape lust. You were the father of the child you so cruelly crushed here the other day. If you have any honor, if your family has taught you anything, you will know what to do."

Frank let out a loud, keening cry that grew into an eagle's scream magnified a thousandfold as he instantly transformed for the first time in his life, and launched himself into the air. He bolted straight up, the downdraft from his wings knocking me back a step.

"Get him," I yelled.

"He will do what is required," answered grandmother. "Just let us know when the deed is done. Now we need a breakfast. Are there golden arches near here?"

####

It was almost four months later. I was watching the news channel because I didn't have my glasses and couldn't see to find the hockey game, when I saw Frank for one last time. His face was presented as an artist's rendering of a body found crushed in the foothills. The story line was that the man, naked as a jay bird according to the reporter, had been climbing a rock formation that was known to locals as extremely dangerous and had fallen to his death. I think it far more likely that Frank had chosen to fly high and change to human form, knowing that his human body would never survive the plunge to earth. His honor was restored.

I sent an email off to Grandmother telling her the story and adding in the news channel I'd watched it on. She actually called about an hour later. "You're positive it was Frank?" she queried. "Really positive?"

"Yes, grandmother, I'm positive. You can probably watch the clip from their website." I answered.

"Good!" she exclaimed. "I was a bit worried that he was too much human, and not enough dragon to do what was right. Well, our honor has been preserved. Have you said anything to the police?"

"I tried to tell Bass what happened when Frank took off, but he believed me about as much as I'd believe him had you and I never met," I replied. "I guess I'll call him and let him know about the news story."

"Yes, do that." said Grandmother. "It's important that our honor is upheld, even if humans don't believe in us. Thanks, you, Thomas. Until we meet again..."

"Good night, Grandmother." I said to the already dead link.

I'm glad I'm not a dragon.

THE END


© 2010 Jonathan Saville

Bio: Jonathan Saville is actually Jon Leitch, a Canadian living in St Albert, Alberta. He is married with four boys aged 18 through 35. With a MA in Mathematics, he has enjoyed over forty years in the computer industry as a college instructor, employee of a major computer manufacturer, and as a private consultant. This short story is one of the first projects that has not been a set of class notes or a client presentation.

E-mail: Jonathan Saville

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