Byron Talbot was a sickly boy. He lived alone with his mother, Matilda, in the hills on the other side of the valley. He had been born with a disease that made him different from the other children. Since the day he was born, the doctors told his mother that she should not expect him to live very long; but day after day, night after night, Byron proved the doctors wrong. He was not supposed to have reached his third birthday, but by the time he reached four years of age, the doctors were amazed. Byron could not walk very well, and had to use a wheelchair most of the time, but was strong-willed and very smart. The doctors had said he would never walk, but he proved them wrong. With his mother’s help, and even though he had to use crutches, he taught himself to walk, much to the surprise of his doctors. Being so smart, he learned how to read when he was three and would read any book he could get his hands on. He especially loved the stories about dragons, and how they could fly. He wished that he was a dragon and dreamt of flying around the sky, dancing with the clouds, skimming over the mountaintops, and brushing the tops of the trees in the valley. He loved dragons more than anything.
When he turned five, he started kindergarten like the rest of the kids and even though he couldn’t run and play, he was able to make friends. Everyone liked Byron. Byron would tell jokes, making the other kids laugh, and he would make up stories for the rest of the kids who loved hearing them. He made up stories about dragons and what they could do and everyone, including the teacher would sit and listen. His mother thought and even the doctors did for a little while, that he was getting better, but this was not meant to be.
Byron was very sad at the thought of leaving his home, of leaving his mother, but mostly, he was sad because he was not getting any better. As the days ticked away, his condition worsened and was losing feeling in his legs and his arms began to fail him. He could no longer feed himself and his mother could not take any more time off to care for him. It was on the day they were supposed to leave, with Byron being very upset, and his mother in tears, there came a knock at the door.
Byron’s mother opened the door to see a middle-aged woman standing in the doorway, holding a small scrap of paper.
“Are you the mother who placed the advert in the local paper?”
“Yes, I am. We were getting ready to leave. I haven’t found anyone and now I must place my son in a home for the disabled,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
“You will do no such thing, Madam,” exclaimed the woman.
“Pardon?” Byron’s mother asked.
“You will provide me with room and board, and I will care for, what is his name?”
“His name is Byron and he is in the other room. I would like to see if he likes you first.”
“Poppycock, Madam. The child does not have to like me for me to care for him, but as you wish.”
Byron’s mother escorted the woman into the parlor where Byron was sitting by the window, looking to the hills beyond, as if lost in a dream.
“Byron,” his mother called, “there is someone here to see you.”
Byron didn’t turn his head and continued staring out the window.
“Byron, I am talking to you. There is someone here to see you,” his mother called again.
Matilda felt a hand on her arm, “Madam if you would allow me to try?”
“Please. He does not respond to me very much anymore.”
“Byron,” the woman spoke, “I am Ms. Strohm, can you tell me what you’re looking at?”
There was still no response from Byron, frozen motionless in his wheelchair.
The woman walked to his side, leaned over, placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered into his ear, “Will you tell me about your dragons?”
He quickly turned his head, one of the few parts of his body that still functioned and looked her in the eyes, “How do you know about my dragons?”
She held the clipping from the paper out to him, “It says right here. You love dragons and love to tell stories about them. I would like to hear about your dragons and then I will tell you about mine.”
His stoic look eclipsed into a slow smile. It was the first time that Byron had smiled in weeks, and for the smile alone, Matilda offered Ms. Strohm the job of nanny and teacher on the spot, not even asking her for references. If Ms. Strohm could make Byron smile, they could figure out everything else. She would take the spare room next to Byron’s and help with the housework while Matilda was at work.
Matilda was able to return to work and the Ms. Strohm would sit with Byron, taking care of him and listening to his stories about the dragons. As he became weaker and weaker, Ms. Strohm began to tell him about the dragons that would swim. He had never heard of swimming dragons, but Ms. Strohm explained that before dragons can learn how to fly, they had to strengthen their wings and swimming would let them do that without getting hurt.
The doctors finally decided that since he could no longer eat or drink through his mouth, they would install a feeding tube, which caused Byron to become even more depressed. He stopped wanting to talk about dragons, only thinking about himself and his mother, and how sad she would be when he died. Ms. Strohm noticed this change in him, and one day, decided to take him over the hill in this wheelchair, struggling to get it to the crest, to see the valley lake below. It was in this lake, she said, where the dragons came to swim. This seemed to brighten his spirits for a bit, but he saw no dragons and he could no longer hold on to the fantasy of the swimming dragons. They were not real. He was real. His sickness was real, but they were not.
“What does that look like to you, Byron?”
“It looks like a rock.” he replied, angry at being near the water.
“Yes, it looks like a rock, but if you look closely, it resembles a dragon’s head. Do you see the nose there, and the mouth there, and his big ears?”
Byron looked again and he could see what she meant. It did vaguely look like a dragon.
“Ok. So it’s a dragon. What does mean for me? I’m still in this wheelchair and I know I’m going to die. Why should I care about some rock that looks like a dragon?”
“Ms. Strohm. I know you want to make me feel better, but it is only a rock, and all your dragons are not real. None of my dragons are real. They are only in my head. It is all make-believe and this is not,” he said, looking up and down his body.
“Byron! That is no way to talk. My dragons are real. Your dragons are real and yes, your sickness is real, but you have to believe in something. Didn’t you believe you could walk at one time?”
Yes,” he replied.
“And they told you that you wouldn’t be able to,” she replied.
“So now you’re telling me you don’t believe in dragons because of why?” she asked.
Because they are not real.” he stated.
“Look again!” she said, pointing at the rock outcropping.
It appeared as if the rocks had changed and the dragon face was now looking at him. Byron blinked several times and could not believe what he was seeing. Had the rocks really moved or was he just imagining it?
“No, that can’t be real. Rocks don’t move like that. I want to go home now,” he stated.
“Very well, Byron. I will take you home now, but we are coming back tomorrow to talk about the dragons again. I have something very important to share with you.” she stated and began to push him up the hill, now made easier with the new wheelchair.
That night, Byron tried to sleep, but he kept seeing what he thought were eyes in this bedroom window, huge eyes. Dragon’s eyes. He must be dreaming. Dragons were not real. He heard a bump outside his window and called for Ms. Strohm who came into his room, turning on his light.
“Yes, Byron. Is everything alright?” she asked.
“I heard something outside my window,” he stated.
“It looks like something was standing outside your window, Byron. What did you see?”
He knew it was silly. Dragons were only make-believe. It couldn’t possibly be, but he said it anyway, “I thought I saw a big dragon’s eye in my window.”
“From the size of this footprint, I’m not sure what it was, but it was big,” she replied, looking amazed.
When Byron awoke, he was not feeling well and called out. Ms. Strohm came into the room and looked at him. Her look was one of worry, she immediately left the room, and he could hear her talking on the telephone. Not long thereafter, his mother arrived home early from her job, his doctor accompanying her and he saw the concerned look on her face.
He could barely talk and looked at his mother, “I want to go to the lake and watch the dragons swim.”
His mother didn’t understand what he was asking, thinking him delusional. She looked at Ms. Strohm who motioned her to the other room. The doctor followed.
A few minutes later, Matilda knelt down beside her son’s bed and said, “If you want to see the dragon’s swim, then Ms. Strohm will take you to see the dragons swim.”
He smiled. Unable to hold himself up, they strapped him into the wheelchair. Ms. Strohm pushed him out of the house, and he saw beneath his window the footprint of what he could have sworn was a dragon. It had been real and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
Ms. Strohm noticed, “Why are you crying, Byron?”
“Ms. Strohm, you were right. The dragons are real.”
She cried with him knowing that she had given him one last thing to hold onto as he began to slip away from the world.
As they reached the edge of the lake, its waters calm, Byron looked around, saw no movement, and became sad. He had wanted to see the dragons swim. It was always what he wanted. As he began to drift into that final sleep, there was movement in the water, and what arose was the most magnificent sight he had ever seen. It was the grand dragon, standing at his full height; his wings outstretched catching the rays of the sun. The waters churned as more dragons arose from the waters; the blues, as beautiful as the sky and ocean, the greens, the color of the deep forest to the brilliance of emeralds, browns, all the hues of wood, the blacks as dark as midnight, the golds, shimmering brightly, and silvers, the light sparkling on their scales, all standing before him.
Ms. Strohm stood beside him, gripping his hand as he watched them kneel in the presence of the Grand Dragon, who now looked at him.
Byron froze. He was afraid. He was now afraid of the dragons that stood before him and the Grand Dragon spoke, “You are Byron.”
He couldn’t believe the Grand Dragon knew his name.
“Do you now believe in us?”
“Yes, I do. I believe in you.”
“There is no need to be afraid, Byron. It is time.”
Byron could feel himself getting lighter and lighter as if his body had no weight. He could no longer feel Ms. Strohm’s hand in his, and turned and saw her face, the tears now streaming down as she looked at his body.
He felt the mighty claws on the wings of the Grand Dragon gently wrap themselves around him, lifting him higher until he was eye to eye with the wondrous creature.
“Byron, it is time to take your rightful place amongst us.”
Byron didn’t understand and looked down to where he had been and could see his lifeless body, now held tightly by Ms. Strohm. He turned back to the Grand Dragon and caught his reflection in the dark mirror-like eyes. He was no longer a boy and now had wings and scales. Once again he could feel and move as he had never moved before. He was a dragon. He flapped his small wings, much to the delight of the Grand Dragon, who smiled.
The Grand Dragon lowered him to the water, carefully letting him get used to the coolness that washed over the scales, now in place of skin, and he heard him speak, “You must learn to swim before you can fly, little one. You are the boy who swims with dragons.”
Copyright © 2017 Nathaniel Kaine