Wednesday, March 15, 2006

St. George’s Dragon

When food is plentiful some nonmammalian species employ parthenogenesis to reproduce because it is quicker and it allows the species to take advantage of the available resources.

-Georg Löwe

Her yellow eyes shine in the shadows of a summer night under the Pont St.-Louis, the short bridge connecting the Ile de la Cité with the Ile St-Louis. She listens to the rumble of the machines that cross the bridge.

At dusk bats fall from the bridge’s supports and fly off into the night. Her stomach rumbles from hunger, as she watches the bats disappear into the city.

Her leather wings held tightly against her body twitch and for a moment she almost flies up with the bats into the darkening sky to hunt but instead she sinks beneath the water as a bateau mouche passes overhead, its props churning the water and its engines spewing gas and oil.

When she re-surfaces her nostrils flare, filled with the smells of the boat and the odor of food.

She hears voices across the water and the rumble of the engine and she imagines flying up and snatching some food from the boat so fast that no one notices.

She thinks of it often now, flying up above the city, snaring her prey where she finds it rather than stalking cats and rats in the sewers or waiting in the water, hoping that something edible falls nearby.

As the sun disappears she floats away from the shadows to the shore where prey walks along the edge. There is so much food here, she thinks, it would be so easy but then she becomes fearful, afraid of their numbers.

She tried it once before and they attacked her and hurt her and since then she has been careful. But she was younger then, smaller, and her wings were barely developed. Now, her wings are wider than her length and she flies.

She flies on dark nights and each time her wings grow stronger.

The night darkens as rain clouds gather over the city.

Encouraged by the threatening storm, she floats with the current away from her nest under the Ile de la Citè and the shadows beneath the bridge.

Drops of rain splatter on the water and she squints to see the banks of the river.

It is dark enough to fly, she thinks, so she spreads her wings over the water and beats them against the air and they fill with air. She rises higher and higher into the night sky and circles first Notre Dame Cathedral and then the island and each bank of the Seine.

On the left bank a murder of crows rise from a park where they roost and chase her away.

With each circle she widens her gyre and soon she is two thousand feet above the city.

In a moment of sheer pleasure she snorts a blaze of fire across the sky, forgetting the creatures below. She dives and circles and climbs, playing among the rain clouds.

Later, the rain stops and she spies in a wood far from her nest, prey standing in a circle of light, while others pass slowly, yelling. She glides over the scene and detects two of the creatures separating from the others and entering the dark woods.

She makes another pass, lower this time, following the two into the woods until they reach a small clearing, where they lie down onto the ground.

She makes another pass, lower than before, her wings beating just beyond the tops of the trees. Her heart thumps, as she anticipates the attack and capture, and her stomach churns and juices roil in her mouth.

She makes one final pass and then hovers above the couple and spews two bolts of fire, burning them black. She descends and takes the smaller one in her rear claw and flies up into the darkening sky. The other one, though burned, moans and she turns and sprays another flare of flame across him. He sizzles and rolls over the grass of the clearing setting it aflame.

When she reaches the island she closes her wings, moves her prey to her front claws so she can use her tail and legs to swim, and dives into the water.

The entrance to her nest lies deep beneath the ground in a basement of a ruin that time buried beneath the Cathedral.

She slithers up the slippery walls of the tunnel until she reaches her dank and dark nest.
She drops her food in a corner and circles her space, sniffing it, making sure that it is still safe before returning to the food.

The food is not charred enough so she sprays it again and her flames illuminate the walls of the cave, revealing ancient, sacred paintings made by creatures of another age.

She rips the charred flesh from the bone and utters a moan of satisfaction, as she eats her fill, leaving only stray bones with bits of flesh attached, scattered around the tiled floor.

Satiated, she settles onto the pile of detritus that she dragged from the river and rolls herself into a ball, her leathery tail near her mouth. As she closes her eyes, she hears rats and mice squeak, as they rummage through her nest, searching for scraps.

The next day she emits a low flame that illuminates the lair and finds the remaining bits and pieces of food. In her search she catches two rats that she also eats.

She sleeps throughout the day and at dusk slides down the tunnel into the water and takes up her place beneath the bridge to await the dark.

She will fly again tonight, she thinks, because the hunt is easy and the creatures tasty.

Later, she returns to the woods but no one stands beneath the light. She is disappointed but she smells them everywhere below her. It is just a matter of picking one.

Along the banks of the river several miles away, she spies one of the creatures walking with a smaller one with four legs. She passes quietly overhead using the wind’s currents to glide silently along the bank of the Seine. She then ascends and turns back toward her prey. As she draws closer she opens her snout and belches out a great flame and the two creatures fall to the ground, shriveling under her breath.

She circles back and grabs them in her claws and lifts them easily into the air.
Her heart sings with the excitement of the kill and she feels her fear of the creatures fading with each beat of her wings.

As the weeks pass, she discovers that the creatures so plentiful at first are now more difficult to find. Sometimes she flies for hours before she makes a kill. The creatures are there, below her, hidden in their nests but they hide from her and she is not brave enough to drag them out.
She returns to her lair hungry and confused.

The next night she flies south over the buildings and then beyond the boundaries of her hunting grounds. She has never flown this far from her nest before.

At midnight many miles away from the city she discovers hundreds of creatures in a great flat field. They are larger than the others and their smell is different but she recognizes them as food.

She swoops over them and they begin to run in unison away from her but she soon picks out a smaller one and falls upon it. One strong blast and it dies.

It is too heavy for her to take back to her lair so she eats a quarter of it in the field and then rips it in two and carries half to her nest.

This hunt was the most successful that she has had but when she reaches her lair she discovers that she is so bloated from her feast that she cannot enter the tunnel that leads to her nest.
She had noticed that it was becoming difficult to get in and out but now she has outgrown her lair.

She tries several times to enter but she is unable to put more than her head and neck into the tunnel.

She spends the day submerged beneath the bridge with only her eyes and nostrils above the water.

At dusk, she is miserable. She has not slept, she has lost the meat to the current of the Seine, and she no longer has a nest.

At dusk she flies above the city before turning south. She passes the field where she had fed the night before but flies on until she reaches a range of dark mountains. The mountains remind her of home and she feels safe flying among their high peaks. She decides to find a place to build a nest.
She turns toward the west and at dawn she finds at the top of the highest black mountain a cave with an entrance big enough for her.

She is exhausted when she crawls through the opening into a dry cavern. She sniffs and except for a musky smell she detects nothing.

She curls up on the cold stone floor and drops into a deep sleep.

She sleeps for two days and two nights and when she awakes, her belly, though rumbling from hunger, is swollen.

She stands, stretches, yawns, and extends her wings, then moves to the entrance, sniffs the air and detects the scent of the larger creatures to the south.

Within an hour she returns to the cave with half a carcass.

This hunt inaugurates a new phase. She sleeps most of the time now, just leaving the cave to feed. She is rarely hungry because the game is plentiful but she is tired and sleepy.

In the fall, snow falls heavily onto the black mountain and she sleeps even more. On a dark cold night in December, she wakes with a pain in her stomach that lasts for several hours. The pain is so bad that she rolls on the floor and bites her tail trying to escape the villain that attacks her. At dawn, her body jerks and cramps and she produces seven multi-colored eggs, which she deposits in a neat circle in her nest made of branches of pine and fir.

After the birthing the pain subsides and she wraps her body around the eggs and falls asleep exhausted.

The next night she is her old self. She hunts through the night and returns with half of a carcass.

On a spring day, she moves ponderously around the cavern. The seven eggs glow and are warm to the touch, the outlines of the baby dragons visible through the leathery skin of the eggs.
From time to time the babies belch flames within the eggs and she smells their sulfurous odor and feels content.

That night she makes three kills and brings the food to the cave. At dawn, the dragon in the yellow egg breaks through the skin of the egg with a squeak and a belch of fire.
She burns a piece of the meat a dark black and places it front of the wobbly lizard that sniffs the meat before nibbling a tiny piece.

By midday all seven eggs crack open and the tiny lizards creak and croak and dance around the cavern. She feeds them and then she rolls into a ball with her tail in her mouth as the seven push against her great heart.

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