Iron Dragon

By Jane Jacobs

“Are you ready?”
“No.”
The dragon looks at me curiously. Its amber eyes glitter in the light. “Why not?” it ask.
“I don't want to,” I say into my pillow.
It shakes its head, laughing slightly. “Of course you don't,” it says mockingly. “You're afraid, Morgan. You're terrified.” Gears whir as its face curls into a wicked grin.
“Go away,” I say.
“Think about it,” the dragon says, and steps back into the tear.

The iron dragon showed up the night my bedroom tore. It was night, of course. Everything happens at night, you know?
It was the light that woke me up, because of the brightness and the fact that it was blue. And the smell was like your fingers after handling old coins; dirty, and metallic, and strong enough to make me feel a little sick.
The tear was large, big enough for me to climb through if I had wanted to, and looked as though someone had ripped the wallpaper off in order to reveal what was underneath. But, it wasn't wallpaper that I was seeing. It was more as though someone had hidden a place behind my wall, a large meadow, really. It sparkled in the sunlight.
The dragon was there too, of course. It was sitting right by the tear, flicking its tail like an annoyed cat.
“Hello Morgan,” it had said. Its voice was crackly and whispery, and sounded more like an old radio broadcast than an actual voice. It didn't fit the dog-sized dragon, and I had at first thought that it was a recording, and not the dragon itself.
It wasn't alive, though.
Instead of muscles it had gears, and instead of skin it had thin metal sheets. Its wings hung at its sides, and each finger was as thin as a knitting needle. The metal in between each was as thin as paper and looked almost too weak to support the thing in flight.
“Do you know me?” I asked sleepily. I wasn't completely awake. I was able to accept that what had happened was really happening, because how was I to know that it wasn't a dream?
“Yes,” it whispered. “But you don't know me, Morgan. I've been watching you.”
Chills ran down my spine. “You have?” I asked, confused. “What did you see?”
“You've seemed…unhappy,” it said. “Uncertain of yourself. You want something better, don't you?”
“Yes,” I said skeptically. “Why do you care?”
“I need you to come with me,” it said, gesturing at the meadow with one wing. The light shone through the metal, displaying the inner workings. “Come through the fabric, Morgan, and be happy.”
“Happy?” I asked. I sat up, my interest peaked and my sleepiness worn away. “Really? You mean like, happy? No catch?”
“Yes,” the dragon said, with a glint in its amber eyes. “Happy. With a small price.”
“A price?” I asked.
“Yes,” it said. “You have to give me your mind.”

That was about a week ago; since then I've pretty much spiralled downwards. Marks have become pretty much non-existent, friends have retreated into the shadows, and my parents have pretty much left me to do whatever the hell I want.
My motorcycle roars to a stop outside our underground garage. The place is an old affair, with cobblestones and gang-graffiti and a wrought-iron gate. It's quiet and smells like rat pee, so no one really uses it.
I run up the garage steps as fast as I can without tripping over my feet. I feel as though the dragon in watching me, and my mouth tastes like old pennies.
I close my eyes, counting the steps. Five, six, seven, eight, nine…
Our house is big, and it's often empty. By a stroke of unimaginable misfortune, the creepy garage and not the one with the three security locks, is right down the hall from my bedroom. My jog turns into a full-out run, and I fling open my bedroom door. The thump throws half of my things off of my desk and onto the floor; I ignore it and throw myself onto my bed. It creaks threateningly under my weight.
Once cocooned into my blanket, I let out a loud whimper that I've been holding in all day. I let my focus slip…
Comewithmecomewithmetothemeadowcomewithmecomewithmetothemeadow comewithmecomewithmetothemeadow…
The mantra that I've been holding back all day comes loose. My whimper becomes a moan; the words turn into a mixed garble, and then a hum, and then a stinging, burning whine.
“Stop,” I say into my pillow. “Make it stop. Please.”
“So will you come?”
I peek out from under my blanket. The dragon is sitting by my bed; close enough so that I can feel an energy radiating off of its metal muzzle. The tear isn't there, although the wall is burnt along the pattern that it normally follows.
“Make it stop,” I whimper, pulling the blanket closer to myself. “The whining. It hurts.”
The dragon cocks its head. It begins to groom itself like a cat; it rubs its viciously clawed paw against its head, making a horrible screeching sound and digging deep grooves into the smooth metal.
“STOP!” I yell, flinging my blanket off. “Stop it! That freaking hurts!”
The dragon pauses, and looks at me. “So will you?” it asks softly. I have to strain to hear the radio-voice, especially over the stinging migraine-whine. “Will you come?”
I pause as well, taken aback by the sudden to choose. I begin to pick at the skin around my nails; a habit that I suppose irritates people. This moment is almost normal; my room is messy, with all the junk shoved off to one side. The gloomy afternoon sun barely penetrates the thick clouds, which cast deep shadows in the room. The dragon ruins it.
“Fine,” I say. “Fine. You know what? Do whatever the hell you want. Go nuts. I don't care anymore. I'm fed up with this.” My picking brings blood to the surface.
The second the words are out, the tear rips open. The light flares out, breaking open the purple walls, and filling the room with the smell of metal. I squint, shielding my eyes.
I am in front of the tear. The meadow, which I have only glimpsed through my sleepy eyes, is beautiful. The grass, the trees, the single small river; all shine as though they have been heavily polished.
“Well?” the dragon says. “Step through, Morgan.” It gestures at the tear.
As though hypnotized, I obey. As I set foot on the ground, it sends a rather pleasant tingle up my leg. The grey-yellow sun is lukewarm on my skin.
“Do you like it?” the dragon asks. “I made it myself.”
“Yeah,” I say. “It's pretty cool. But the meadow…”
“It's iron,” the dragon says, gazing out at it. “It all is. You are, too.”
“What do you…?”I start to say.
But then I look down. The palms of my hands are turning silver, spreading out inch by inch. I watch, speechless, as it extends up my arms. My shirt melts into my skin as my joints are replaced by gears and my tendons are replaced by silver wires.
“You never said this would happen,” I say softly. “Not this.”
The dragon chuckles. “You never asked me,” it said. “You only asked the question. You never said anything about expecting an answer.”
The iron has almost covered my entire body. My torso is sectioned, so that I can turn, and my feet have no toes. I have four fingers. Each and every one of my hairs is encased in the metal, and I watch in shock as my vision turns blue; my eyes have become sapphires. My lips melt together. I try to scream, but my voice has become like the dragon's, so the scream is only a high-pitched whistle.
“You said you'd only take my mind!” I sob. My hands go to my face, but no tears are coming out. “What are you doing?” My radio-voice has an accent. I sound like a young French woman. “I have taken your mind,” the dragon says. “You can feel the tug. You can feel the interconnection, Morgan. Can't you?”

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