Originally posted as “The Lily”, this is now the first chapter of my work in progress. I thought I’d share this week, since I’m not writing any new stories in November.
Cherophobia: A morbid aversion to cheerfulness
Avoidance of events that normally cause happiness
— Mosby’s Medical Dictionary
Arthur the Purple and Amber was a dragon in a rut.
In the mornings he sat in his cave breakfasting on brown nettles. He gave no thought to his surroundings. He swept the floor with a tumbleweed broom, captured any insects that scurried away and stored them for lunch. While morning was still early he walked out along the cliff’s edge, following a path that required no navigational attention. He stretched his wings as he stepped, as prescribed for sedentary dragons to prevent his fins from adhering to each other. He trudged up the steep rocky steps to an ice patch where he blew short bursts of his fiery breath, melting a narrow river down to the natural basin formed by the stony landscape. Occasionally he spied other dragons, young and flying high, giddy in the mountain air and the adventure of the hunt. He had no truck with them. Flying only served to remind him how small his world was, and he had lost his taste for meat.
One day, he returned home to see something he had never seen. A light green shoot was poking through a crack in the basin. The color was different from the range of browns and reds he knew. Perhaps it was a trick of the imagination? He considered eating it. How different it would be from the scrub brush and nettles that stuck in his teeth and pierced his tongue and cheeks. But as he looked upon the little plant with its hopeful color and utter vulnerability in the stony ground, he felt such overpowering tenderness for it he had to grit his teeth. He decided rather than eating it he would protect it from the harsh environment. He found some stones and created a shelter around it.
For the next few days, he awoke eager to check each stage of the plant’s growth. When a tiny bloom appeared he nearly set it on fire in his exclamation of excitement. This bloom became over time an exquisite lily, its petals a white so bright he could see it in the moonlight when he peeked at it from his cave at night. He was loathe to leave it for his daily work, but knew he and the lily needed water to survive.
One morning Arthur arrived to see an astonishing transformation. A delicate face was pressing out of the lily. He blew gently, and the flower face bobbed in the tropical breeze he made. She slowly opened her eyes and he felt his heart squeeze as he recognized the color of the spring shoot in her irises. The rest of her body materialized top to bottom until she was twice the height she had been as a lily and the width and shape of a maiden. Her flower petals transformed into a child-sized human head. Two leaves that had grown at the base of the long stock curled into fiddleheads and became feet. Two more fronds became long, green arms. She was no longer rooted to the stone. Her hair retained the white luminescence of the lily petals, and her skin was a cool forest green.
As she focused her bright green eyes on him, Arthur became uncomfortably aware of his body and its imperfections. He stepped back, feeling the heat rise under his arms. The scales on his back begin to itch. He reached a claw back and discretely scratched.
She opened her mouth, startling him with a wordless tune. He sat back on his haunches, mesmerized, unsure where to look.
She stepped forward on her shaky new legs. She was just tall enough to reach the top of his head while he was seated. She placed her hand on his head, gently pressing him to lower himself onto his front claws. She slid onto his back and squeezed him with her heels. He started, uncertain if this was affection, and if so, how to return the sign.
Again, she squeezed, leaning forward, and he realized she was urging him to take flight.
Together they soared off the cliff face, eyes closed in the brilliance of the sun. He swooped low, then ascended at exhilarating speed to the top of the mountain. As they approached the summit, she resumed singing her strange song. Though he still did not recognize any words, he began to sense she was communicating with him. He felt her song like a violinist drawing a bow across his heart. The crescendo rose and peaked as they topped the mountain. Before them spread the magnificent sky and valley.
She uttered stuttering, guttural sounds and he knew she was moved by their smallness in the vast space. He wanted to tell her he saw it too — the immensity of the world and the beauty of life. He perceived the colors, deep blue sky, rich red rock, the green of the valley. It all came to him in a shock. They hovered in the air and he realized he could show her his joy. He swooped down and looped around.
She responded with a new tune that again resonated across his heart. Yes.
They flew for hours. He showed her his ice patch, riding close to the ground so their feet and legs felt the cool air while the sun shone dry and hot on their heads. She sang a twittering birdlike song that bubbled in his ears. He responded by playfully bucking and she held tightly to his neck, changing to a low, chastising note. He banked hard to the west to glide past the other dragons and display his beautiful strange lily. They stopped midair to gawk at him and he pretended to ignore them while a proud smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. She did not speak, and he was comfortable with the silence. He showed her his birthplace and the hillside where he had first practiced flying as an adolescent. The companionable squeeze of her heels in response was a balm to his heretofore singular existence. He was certain she understood his feelings and he loved her for it. She sang a soft melody. He glided, gently rocking side to side, matching her swinging rhythm.
After hours of this unaccustomed activity he could no longer flap his wings. He brought her to her basin and she descended, kissing his neck tenderly before dropping to sleep in the stony pool. He gathered some strands of her hair that had fallen and went to bed holding them like a bouquet, reliving the day and plotting out new places to show her.
The next morning he arose excited with his plans. He could fly her down to the valley where there were flowers she’d probably like to see. He wondered if she had family, maybe siblings who would like a ride on a dragon! He hummed one the songs she had sung the day before and splashed some water on his face before he dashed out to see her.
But alas, in spite of her human form she had the lifespan of a cut flower. He stared in disbelief at her wilted form in the basin, covered in the cool water he had made for her. He returned to his lair in a numb stupor, lay down on his sleeping ledge and stared blankly at the empty cave. He remained there, drained of energy, his head too heavy to lift, until he fell into a dreamless sleep.
Arthur rolled away from the light of the morning sun, He stared at the dark wall of the cave, dreading the idea of getting up. He didn’t want to pass the place where his beloved flower had bloomed. Even if he could, the prospect of spending the day melting ice was so horrible, he could not even touch it with his mind. It wasn’t just the loss of love he was suffering. He had now experienced joy, excitement, and a brief respite from loneliness. This left a stark contrast. He had been awakened. Even his routine was no longer his.
The sunlight crept along the floor of the cave, closer and closer to his ledge until by mid morning, a wide shaft of it was baking the spines down the middle of his back and tail. He was never there at this hour and hadn’t realized the cave received so much sunlight during the day. It was quiet. He became aware of the sound of water dripping. He tried counting the drops, to see if it would make him sleepy, but this only served to make him anxious; the drops seemed relentless.
For the second time in two days, and in many years, he did something unexpected. He rolled off his ledge, rummaged in his cubby, and pulled out a sturdy burlap cloth. On this he laid what remained of his stock of thistles and a wineskin which he filled from his water supply. Binding up the cloth, he slung it over his back and lumbered down the path along the edge of the cliff. Behind him, his cave gaped. The great rocky wall where he had toiled for so many years with neither happiness, sorrow nor friendship, shone in the bright sunlight. He did not turn around.
His wings were sore from the long flight the day before, and he unfurled them gingerly as he plodded along. He was careful not to spread them out completely, since he wanted no reminders of yesterday’s joyful soaring. Yet the small pulses comforted him, even while they hurt his aching muscles. He welcomed the discomfort.
Around mid-day, he came to a tall thistle. He stopped to collect the seed pods, eating a few before adding them to the collection in his sack. He took out the wineskin and eased himself to the ground for a short drink of water and a break. Looking down, he saw the yellow head of a small dandelion that he had almost sat upon. Although his acquaintance with flowers was limited (he’d met just the one), he still felt this was an inferior breed. He picked the entire plant, roots and all, and gave the leaves a nibble. They were soft and bitter, but tasty. The flower head was odd, and then suddenly painful. He spat it out, along with a small bee that had only moments before been passing a pleasant afternoon within the petals of the dandelion. His eyes welled up, and he felt something he had been holding inside crack open. He let out a mighty roar. Flames and smoke billowed out of his mouth as he howled and rocked on his haunches.