"Good game, you sure had me on my toes" He said.
"Yeah, you had me on my toes too...well, for the most part." I chuckled as he helped me up.
"Yeah...well, we better get going. There's only a few more minutes of twilight left." He said, as he started to walk away.
"Wait" I said, before he left. He stopped and turned around. "Before we go I want to show you something"
"What's that?" He asked curiously
"A living reflection." I said. He looked at me with even more confusion. "You'll see, really soon." And, lo and behold, a few seconds later, reflections of reality slowly came into view. The Shattered Fortress started to glow from the string of lights that were never taken down. "We had solar paneling installed. When our Shining Fortress was brought down, we assumed that the solar panels were destroyed. But at the unofficial funeral which the founder's had set up for Jeff and Greg, it started to glow. That's how we knew that after we're gone, the spirit carries on. Everyday at twilight, The Shattered Fortress comes back to life.
"That really is something." He said to me, still gazing at the fort.
"Indeed it is." I said. "Come on, we better get going. Your mom said to get home before sundown."
We started the jog back to his house, stopping briefly at mine to ditch the basketball. We continued to jog as best as we could...well, as best as I could. He still didn't even seem tired from the game, it looked like he didn't even play.
"How are you...not...tired?" I asked, still pretty winded.
"Well, I don't know. Ever since I was chang...ing my diet and exercise routine, I haven't gotten tired at all, really." He said suspiciously, but I cast it off as just my heat exhaustion.
"Huh...well, you might have to share your secrets with me" I said in a friendly matter.
"Believe me, you don't wanna know my secret..." He mumbled.
"Huh, what's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Well...let's just say that it takes a lot out of you. Some days, it can a real bitch to deal with, and frankly, I'm surprised I didn't give up yet. But it's too late to go back for me, so I live with it. But trust me, you wouldn't wanna do it. It's a pain." He said.
"Well, I'll take your word for it. But if it's such a pain, why don't you quit?" I asked.
"Sometimes I do think about quitting, just throwing in the towel. But I don't think it's worth it. My parents would miss me too much...well, I mean, they love me as I am now, and that's good enough for me. And sometimes it's not too bad, there are a few situations where...the exercise...can be quite enjoyable. But still, just the reactions I get can be a pain. Some people envy me, some hate me for being...uh, so fit. But hey, like I said, I can't turn my back on it now, so, you know, I deal with it." He said with a slight smile on his face.
"Well, ok then...I guess that's good enough for me." I said.
"Well, that's good, I guess." He said with a chuckle. "So, you wanna race home the rest of the way?" He asked.
"Uh, what do you think?" I said panting and sarcastically .
"Guess not, then" He said laughing.
"Yeah...well, we're almost there, anyway. Maybe about five more minutes." I said. And soon enough, we were on his front porch, opening the door. His father was sitting on the couch.
"Didn't your mother say to be back before dark?" He said inquisitively.
"Hey, the streetlights aren't on yet, so it's not technically 'dark' yet." Stephen replied.
"Well, just be sure to be back a little early next time. I'll let you off with a warning tonight" He grumbled.
"Fine, whatever dad." He grumbled as we walked up to his room. He slammed the door shut. "Man, my parents can be so annoying sometimes" He said.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm just glad mine on this business trip; I don't have to deal with them." I responded.
"Hmph, lucky. My parent's never leave or anything. My dad works as a contractor, and my mom's a therpist." He said, and somehow seemed to see me putting the pieces together in my head. "And yes, she's the only reason why I'm sane right now. Ever since I...was made part of this family, she's helped me keep my head. I guess I shouldn't be too upset about them." He chuckled.
"Yeah, same here...I guess we could have it a lot worse off. My parents care about me and stuff, and everyone has their parents nag to them. I'm just glad that I'm the favorite child as of now. My little brother is the trouble maker, and they know it." I laughed.
"You have a brother? Since when?" My scaly friend asked.
"Ever since I was one. He's 15. He went on the trip with my parents, because they knew if they left him alone the house would be destroyed. Sure, he got outta school for it, but that just means less of him to deal with. And, to tell the truth, he's really smart. I just don't get it about him, but alas, he's like number 4 in the class, even with all the trouble he causes." I explained.
"Sometimes logic just doesn't apply, I suppose. I have an older sister, myself. She's a sophomore in college right now. But I really have a good relationship with her, she's really loving and understanding. I feel I can talk to her about everything. I miss her..." He said in a daze, seemingly reminiscing.
"That's cool" I said, but I had a question on my mind. "So...is she a...?" I said, trailing off.
"Ha, no, no, no. I'm the only dragon in this family" He chuckled. "But I can say that she was the first one I went to after I...uh, killed the kid." He said calmly. I found that suspicious. Before, he seemed so uptight about the issue, and now he acts like nothing even happened. The only explanation was that he was deceiving me last time. Did he not care that he killed that boy? Or was that entire story a lie? Now thinking about it, I realized that the issue was still unresolved. I never got the true story, he got me sidetracked. Very clever...but two can play at that game.
"Yeah, I guess you got one hell of a sister. So what she say when you told her about the accident at the lake?" I asked as calmly and smoothly as I could. He paused for a second, which was expected. I took my focus off him and looked at a my phone for a second, keeping the pressure off him.
"Yeah, well...she cried for a bit after she heard about her brother drowning because of my stupidity...but she knew it was an accident. She saw me about to cry and hugged me, telling me everything would be fine, that it wasn't my fault." He said. Now I knew he was lying. A lake was never mentioned, and the pause indicated that he wasn't sure if he made up a story about a lake. He didn't expect me to trick him back out of nowhere, so he rolled with a fake story. Now, I just need to keep it up.
"Did...did she ever see him again? With all the scars?" I asked, as he started to show signs of tention.
"Uh...yeah. She...she couldn't stand to look at him, but she still knew it was all an accident, she's a wonderful person." He said nervously.
"It really seems like it. How'd you convince your parents?" I asked.
"Well, I, um, I just told them to truth. My sister backed me up and stuff and they beleived me after a while. I told them my story, like I told you, and they really felt bad for me. They took me in and gave me a home. I can never repay them." He lied through his fangs.
"So tell me, when are you gonna stop lying to me about this whole thing?" I asked. He froze up for a second, until he sighed with grief. He knew he had lost.
"So, you really want to know what happened, huh?" He asked.
"Yes, I would. I don't like having secrets kept from me, and you're my friend. I'm sure of it now. Let me know what plagues your mind, I can see the hurt behind your smile. Where's the foundation, the root of it all?" I asked him calmly and nicely. But he was silent. He looked at the ground for a while, and his he started to frown again. His eyes started to become glassy. "Is something wrong?" I asked.
"...I'm scared..." He said. I wasn't quite sure what he meant. He looked up at me. "I don't know...I don't know what you would think of me. I've told everyone in West Virginia what happened. Everyone. And...well, why do you think I moved here? They just...they rejected me, they hated me when they knew...I'm not sure how a stranger would act though...I'm just...scared..." He said sorrowfully. I walked over to him and put my arm around his shoulder.
"It's ok, dude, it's ok. I won't abandon you and I won't toss you aside. If you want me to keep it a secret, I will. But please, trust me. Believe me." I said, still squeezing his shoulder.
"...Thanks. Thanks a lot...now, can you get my sketches. I need to show you something." He asked me. I let go of him, and walked over to the box. I picked it up and carried it over to him. He took out a few papers that I recognized and placed them in specific order on the floor. "Now, I want you to tell me what you see." He told me.
"Well, I see a dragon transforming into a human" I said curiously, still not sure what he was getting at. He then took the papers from the floor and rearranged them.
"Ok, Kevin...now what do you see?" He asked. I looked down at the papers again.
"I see a human changing into a dragon...but what does...?" I asked. But a second later, I realized it. But...that was impossible! People just don't change into animals, it doesn't happen! But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense...the boy in the old picture, the reaction at his old school where everyone knew him as a human, even just the basic knowledge of the human world...it made sense logically, but not scientifically. I looked up at him, and he seemed to be scared. He was shaking from head to tail, and looked like he might pass out. "Stephan...take it easy buddy, take it easy." I said, trying to calm him and myself down.
"...It hurt so bad...first it was just a shock in my mind, a little brain jolt. Then imagine your skin ripping in a thousand places, turning rock hard...teeth falling out, horns growing, and appendages literally exploding out of your body...it was like a nightmare. I thrashed around, waging the war against my body. I've destroyed trees and shrubs with immense power, I couldn't control myself, it was horrible...just your expression when you realized what happened reminded me of it all. I saw you etching out the details in your mind, but you can never realize how terrible it was to go through...I hope you never have to." He said, still shaking.
"You...this is what happened to you...but...how?" I asked, still confused.
"I still don't know, doctors don't know, no one knows. But all I can tell you is this. I was just taking a nature walk in the woods, like I always do. Across the way, I found something. A lizard, like the ones you saw in the drawing. It was unlike anything I've ever seen. I pick him up, and took him home. My parents didn't seem to have a problem with him, and we fed him well, kept him clean and everything. But this lizard was special. I don't know what it was, but he seemed so smart, like a real person. I'm not afraid to admit that he was one of my best friends. He seemed to understand me utterly and completely, and one day, I knew that I needed to let him go. I just didn't feel right, keeping him in that cage, and he was getting expensive. He grew to an incredible size, like, the size of a komodo. I really didn't expect that, so it needed to happen. I carried him out back to the woods where I found him, and let him go. He looked up at me and smiled. Litterally, smiled. That's when...that's when he bit me. On the leg. I felt something go into me from his fangs, some sort of liquid. He poisined me, and I thought for a fact that I was going to die. I got lightheaded, and some kind of shock entered my mind. I though my head would exploded...I was so angry. He was still clinging onto my leg, and I did what had to be done. I brought my free leg up, and crushed his skull. He was dead on the spot. I took my leg out of his mangled jaw, and looked at it, my head still throbing, and now my leg burning and cracking. I looked at it, and to my shock...I had scales. They progressed...and now here I am." He explained.
"I can't believe it...it's...it's incredible...it's unthinkable..." I said, still astonished.
"I'm telling the truth!" He lashed at me for a split second, before going back to being depressed. "I really am this time...I'm not lying...please...please believe me...please..." He pleaded.
"I...I do. I believe every word of it. I can tell your sincere this time. Don't worry. I believe you. And I still value you as a friend. And I'll keep your secret forever. Don't worry, you can count on my, buddy." I said.
"Thanks...thanks so much. Although I've only known you for a day...you've become one of the best friends I've ever had, even when I was a human. Thank you..." He said, as he came closer to me. Without warning, he grabbed me and held tight and rested his head on my shoulder, and thanked me one last time.
"It's no problem, dude. I'll be there for you whenever you need me." I said, as I rubbed the scales on his head, before he let go. He looked up at me and smiled, and I smiled back. "You're not gonna bite me now, are you?" I chucked.
"Heh, you never know..." He said suspicitiously.
"You bite me, and ill do the same thing you did to your attacker" I said, as we both laughed. We settled down eventually. "So, what do you wanna do?" I asked.
"Well...um, we can play a game or watch TV or something." He suggested. I pondered for a while. Nothing was good on TV any more, so I guess it was games.
"What games do you have?" I asked. He searched through his shelves and pulled out a bunch of unboxed game boards and bags of dice and cards and other stuff. I looked through the piles of boards, and didn't find anything that I hadn't played a thousand times. Yatzee, Monopoly, Chess, Checkers, Clue...the usual. I continued to search, though, hoping to find a hidden gem. But I did come across something very interesting, and something I hadn't seen in a long while. A homemade wooden board, with all the letters of the alphabet arranged in two crescents, one above the other, along with the numbers zero to nine in a straight line below the letters, and the words "Yes", "No", "Hello", and "Goodbye" in the corners. It was decorated with beautiful artwork of fire and flames, and moons and clouds. The letters seemed to be engraved in the board and spray painted gold. It was very nice craftsmanship. A very nice Ouija board indeed.
He saw me looking at the board, admiring its craftsmanship. "That's a Ouija board. It's used to contact spirits and stuff through it. It sounds weird, but it really does work. I haven't done it in forever...never had anyone to do it with since the change. Rule number 1 is to never do it alone. Ever." He explained.
"Sounds like a bunch of fun!" I said with enthusiasm. I'd completely forgot about the board until now, I haven't touched one in years. I was now eager to test it out.
"Are you sure? Sometimes freaky things happen when you do this. Haven't you dealt with enough freaky things today already?" He chuckled.
"Not in the slightest" I replied with a laugh.
"Ok, but if we're gonna do this, we're doing this right. Go shut off the lights and close the door, I'll get the candles" He commanded. I did as he said, as soon we were shrouded in darkness, the only light coming from the dim streetlamp outside. He set up the candles accordingly around the board.
"Do we have a lighter?" I asked, wondering if he was gonna do what I thought he would.
"Heh, who needs one?" He chuckled. He inhaled some oxygen through his nostrils, and exhaled a small spark of fire onto the candles, lighting all seven around the board without as much as a mark on the hardwood floor.
"Well, my doubts were just eliminated. For a while I wasn't sure if you had that feature." I said.
"Well, short answer is, I do" He boasted.
"How does it work? I mean, anatomically?" I asked.
"It's quite interesting, actually. I think there's some kind of muscle or pouch or something that stores a chemical or something. I can control when it opens and closes, and once it does, my lungs heat up. My guess is that when it contacts oxygen or carbon dioxide or something, it ignites it, allowing me to release fire. It's just a theory, though, I'd rather not find out by having a doctor cut me open or anything." He explained.
"That makes sense...well, I guess. I mean, more sense than any other theory that I've heard. At least you didn't say magic" I laughed.
"Yeah, really" Stephan said, rolling his eyes. "So, you ready to begin?" He asked, while putting his two index fingers on the shotglass in the center of the board.
"Yeah, I'm ready" I said, as I met his fingers with my own. We slid the glass to the bottom left corner, and we both said "Hello", and slid it back to the center of the board.
"Is this board open for discussion?" Stephan asked out loud. Without any pressure from either of us, the glass slid on its own to the top left, over the word "Yes", and then back to the center.
"Is there anyone here who wishes to talk?" I asked. Almost immediately the cup moved to "Yes" and back.
"Are we talking to them now?" Stephan asked, and once again, the cup went to yes.
"Cool, cool. So how old are you?" I asked with a friendly smile. The glass slid to the number "7" and back to the center. "Only 7, huh...still a young fella, aren't you. You are a guy, right?" The glass slid to yes, indicating his gender. "Nice! So, where did you live?" The cup slid to a few letters: W. E. S. T. V.
"West Virginia?" Stephan asked, his curiosity now sparked. The shot glass slid to yes. "Did you know me? Stephan Marcelli?" He asked. To our surprise, the glass slid to "yes"
"Awesome! What's your name, bro?" I asked. He started to spell it out through the board. D. A. R....
"D...Darius?" Stephan squeaked. He seemed to be overtaken with fear and awe as the cup slid to yes.
"Stephan, what's wrong?" I asked him, concerned for his well-being. But he seemed to ignore me.
"Why?" He asked the board in a sad and angry tone. "Why did you do it!?" He whispered angrily. I looked at him wondering what happened between them. The board spelled out the letters G. I. F. T. "Gift? You don't understand, this isn't a gift, there's too many cons. You ruined my life, you turned on me, and made me a freak!" He whispered again. At this point, I realized who "Darius" was.
"Darius, we're you Stephan's lizard?" I asked, as the cup slid to "Yes". "Did you really think that he would want to deal with being like this? Did you think that this was a proper gift?" I asked. The cup slid to "No". "Then why do it? After all he's done for you, why would you pull this crap?" I asked. The Ouija Board started to spell out something. S. I. D. E. E. F. F. E. C. T.
"Side effect? This was a side effect!? What was my real gift then!?" Stephan asked, still obviously mad. The glass spelled out I. N. D. U. E. T. I. M. E. "In due time? What does that mean?" The glass stayed still. "Please, tell me! I...I don't want to hate you. I just want to know the real reason. I don't want to hate you..." Stephan said, his anger replaced with sadness. The glass started to shift. It spelled out three words: I. L. O. V. E. Y. O. U. "I...I love you, too. Even after all of this, I can't deny it. I love you, and I miss you, and I'm sorry that I killed you. I'm sorry" He said with regret. New words were spelled out. I. T. S. O. K. The glass then moved to the bottom right, over the word "Goodbye".
"Goodbye." I said to the board.
"Goodbye, my friend." Stephan said, as he sadly smiled. He stared silently at the board with glassy eyes and a Mona-Lisa smile for a few moments.
"Is there anyone else who wishes to speak?" I asked, quietly breaking the silence. The glass slid to "Yes". "Are we speaking to them now?", and once again, it slid to yes. "Well, to start off, are you a boy?" The cup slid to yes. "Awesome, so where you from?" I asked. The glass spelled out M. I. S. S. O. U. R. I. "Hey, cool! Anyway near High Ridge?" I asked. The glass moved to yes. "Sweet! Have we met? I'm Kevin Dugan." The glass moved to yes once again. "Where?" I asked. It started to spell. P. R. E. S. C. H. O. O. L. Now it had my attention. "Who is this?" I asked. It started to spell. G. R. E. G. "Is...is it really you?" The cup slid to yes.
"Who is this, Kev?" Stephan asked me.
"Don't you remember? I told you about him. He's the one who help built the fort, and the one who..." I said, trailing off.
"Oh...him." Stephan said to me. "So how's it like where you are?" He asked the spirit. It spelled out G. O. O. D.
"It's really good to talk to you again, dude. I miss you. The Phoenix Founder's are doing fine. Keiran finally got people to call him Syralth after two years of wearing those goddamn shirts, Matt's still obsessed with muffins and crazy as always, Sam is still sexy and random, and Tiff got is on her 7th job in two months. You know, the usual." I chuckled. Stephan looked at me curiously. "They're the ones who helped build Fort Vicarious. You'll meet them Monday, probably. Don't worry, they're really good people." I reassured him.
"Oh, ok." He replied to me, but seemed uneasy. But it was to be expected, it's hard enough meeting strangers as a human, let alone as a dragon.
"Oh, yeah! Greg, this is my friend, Stephan. He just moved here, and, no lie, he's a dragon. Isn't that awesome?" I exclaimed, but something weird started to happen. The glass started to pull harder to the side of the board. Stephan stopped it.
"Don't let it go off the board. Don't ever let the cup go off until you close the board." He commanded, as he pulled it back to the middle.
"Why?" I asked.
"It means the spirit is trying to escape. In other words...possession" Stephan said, as he glared at the board.
"What's gotten into you, man?" I asked. The board spelled out a simple four letter word. J. E. F. F. "Jeff...what about Jeff?" I asked. But then I remembered. The last person to see Jeff, alive or dead, would have been Greg himself. "What happened to Jeff? What happened that day?" I asked. The the glass slid across the board, spelling out T. H. E. A. N. S. W. E. R. L. I. E. S. W. I. T. H. I. N.
"The answer lies within...what does that mean?" Stephan asked. There was no response. Only the silent shift of the shotglass to the word "Goodbye".
"Wait, don't go!" I pleaded.
"It's too late. When a spirit goes, it goes. There's nothing we can do, but say goodbye. Goodbye." Stephan said.
"Goodbye." I echoed. After I uttered that word, I realized something. I was tired and more exhausted then ever before. I glanced at the clock on the wall. It read 11:04. Were we really on the board for that long? It seemed like only minutes! I didn't think I could handle anymore. I sighed and said, "Wanna call it a night?"
"Sure, I am getting pretty tired" The dragon said while yawning and showing off his razor fangs. It's weird though; I know that if the same thing had happened a few hours ago, I would have been uncomfortable and uptight about seeing the blades in his mouth. But now...It just looked like teeth and a yawn to me. I really didn't realize how much I turned my will over in just a single day. "Well, we better close the board" He said, as he slid the cup to goodbye, and said "Farewell"
"Farewell, and good haunting" I chuckled.
"You better watch yourself, man. It's not a good idea to antagonize the spirits" He scolded.
"Yeah, good point. I'm sorry, spirits. Farewell." I said, as I took my fingers off of the glass. We blew out the candles, turned on the lamp, and tucked the board away with the rest of the games. I looked around the room for my 'bed', which still hadn't been put out for me. "So...where do I sleep?" I asked.
"Oh! Yeah, lemmy just...hmm...actually, you know what would be cool?" He asked me.
"What?" I replied.
"You wanna...sleep on the roof? It's not shingled or anything, just smooth wood, for some reason. It's not steep at all, and there's a ledge anyway. It'd be fun!" He exclaimed.
"Heh, sounds like a plan." I replied. "But how do we get up there?" I asked.
"Easy" He said, as he walked to the window. He grabbed a few blankets on the way. He took Before I knew it, he jumped out the window and flew upwards. I saw a scaled claw appear in the window, and heard his voice say "Come on!" I walked over to the window and grabbed the hand. I was confident he could pull me up, and after what happened to the pen, he seemed to have good grip too. I jumped out as he pulled me up to the top. We set up our stuff so we could be comfortable...well, as comfortable as possible. It wasn't as bad as it might have seemed, it was actually quite exhilarating. A few moments later, I heard subtle growls come from my friend next to me, which I assumed to be draconic snoring. Sure is quick to sleep. I watched the clouds roll by as I laid on my back. It sure had been and interesting Spring day, and a surely interesting way to end it. But even with how weird the day began and ended, I have no regrets. Friday, May 15, 2009. One of the greatest days of my life, I thought, as I drifted to sleep.