I found a new prompt! For me, anyways. Check it out inspiration monday!
If this isn’t a prompt destined for dragons, I don’t know what is. An interesting thing to stumble upon immediately after my previous post – obviously someone’s got plans for my writing, but I like it, so that’s ok.
I’m going to take the ‘no rules, seriously’ side of ‘the rules’, because my story ran through that 200-500 words and then just kept going.
I used the prompt phrase: Skin and Scales.
“Who are you talking to, honey?”
Lydia glanced up from the animated conversation she’d been holding with thin air on the back porch. “Fred.”
An imaginary friend? Marsha exchanged a glance with her husband. This wasn’t exactly normal for a thirteen year old.
“On the phone?” John asked, hopeful. Phones are normal.
“Is Fred… is Fred sitting in front of you?”
Lydia gave her parents a look that clearly questioned their sanity. “Of course not.”
“Then… where is he?”
“Well, firstly, Fred’s a she, DUH,” Lydia said, proving her mastery of the expected teenager snark. “And secondly, also obviously, she’s talking in my head.”
“… Oooh…” her concerned parents replied in unison. “And… and what is she talking about?”
Their daughter smiled, an eerie heat in her eyes. “I will be forged in skin and scale.”
The child psychologist agreed that this was, indeed, unusual behaviour. Marsha and John decided to leave out the last bit. No need to make her seem too strange.
“When did Fred first start visiting you, Lydia?” The mousy man asked, his soft voice meant to engage children and make them feel safe.
“She showed up last month.” When the psychologist just waited, she added with an eye-roll, “And hasn’t left. Why would she?”
“And what do you two talk about?”
“What to expect, mostly. And aerospace engineering.”
Doctor Williams had heard a lot of strange things, but this was certainly unique. He forced himself to focus on the first part. “What to expect?”
“I’m thirteen, Dr Williams,” Lydia condescended. “I’m going through changes.”
“Sure, that too.”
“And… does it worry you?”
“Well I can’t say I was expecting it, but I’m more excited than worried. It helps that Fred came early to talk me through it.”
Dr Williams crossed his legs uncomfortably. “Don’t you feel comfortable talking to your parents about this? These changes, I mean? What insight does Fred have?”
“This is a bit outside of my parents’ experience. Why talk to them when I can talk to a professional?”
“What role does the aerospace engineering play in puberty?”
Lydia gave him a wide eyed look. “None, I hope. Aren’t you supposed to know these things? You’re a doctor.”
“Then why are you talking about it with Fred?” the doctor asked, bewildered.
“I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”
“What changes?!” The little girl was too self posessed – it was like talking to an adult who was doing his best to confound his psychiatrist, but it was just a little girl, giving him dribbles of meaningless information.
“I will be forged in skin and scale.” Lydia’s eyes flashed red, and the doctor flinched.
He dabbed anxiously at his sweaty brow and swallowed his growing discomfort. This was a little girl, nothing to be afraid of.
“What… what do you mean by that?”
After a long and thoughtful pause, Lydia shrugged and smiled. “I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”
Lydia ran a high fever for over a week. Any attempt by her parents to take her to the emergency room was met with a snarled no and an unnerving glare. Her eyes gleamed in the light from the open door when her parents looked in on her late one evening.
“Like cat eyes,” Marsha muttered, fretfully pulling balls off her sweater. It was the middle of winter, but they couldn’t seem to get the house temperature below 30C. Marsha sweated through her knitwear in a firm act of denial that anything odd was going on.
“What was that, hon?” John changed into shorts and a tank top the moment he came home from work. He shivered constantly in his office, unused to the cooler air. He tread lightly around both his wife and daughter. The former wound so tight he worried she’d snap, the latter bubbling over with restless energy, like a caged tiger.
“Nothing. She’s awake.” Marsha continued to fidget with her sleeves, watching her daughter’s shadowy form out of the corner of her eye.
“… yeah,” John sighed. “Heya kiddo. How are you feeling?” He flicked on the light in the room and stepped into the dry heat.
“Good,” Lydia rasped, “Gooood” She spoke with a sibilant hiss to her tone. Her hair was matted and damp against her brow, her eyes unfamiliar and restless.
“It sure is warm in here.”
“Heat is… gooood.”
“We’re worried about you, kiddo. What’s happening?”
“I will be forged in skin and scale.”
“Is that dangerous?”
“Not for me.” Lydia’s eyes focused on the here and now for a moment and her brow creased in worry. “I think I should probably go away until it’s over.”
Her parents exchanged worried looks. Finally, her mother asked, “Is that what Fred says?”, in her first acknowledgement of her daughter’s strange new friend. Or whatever it was.
“She says only if I like you.” Lydia lurched to her feet and gave her parents a considering look. “And I do, so… could you give me a lift?”
John and Marsha were unprepared for this new development in child-rearing. They had packed their daughter a sleeping bag and tent, a pile of protein bars, chocolates and fruit roll up snacks, and a change of clothes. They argued over what food their daughter ought to bring, but in the end, decided that they preferred to leave her wired on sugar than teach her how to use a stove while also suffering from… something.
When they dropped her off at the head of the most isolated trail they could find – the parking lot was empty, thankfully – she was burning up. Marsha leaned in for a hug and got her hand scalded when she tried to feel Lydia’s forehead one last time.
She smiled at them, the same old smile she’d always had, but more… toothy… and trotted off into the woods like she wasn’t running a fever that ought to have put her in the hospital and was just off to a friend’s house for a sleepover.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Marsha said.
They sat in the front seats of the family van, staring into the darkness in uncomfortable silence. Had they really just let their baby wander off into the woods alone?
“Should we go after her?” John whispered around midnight. “This is crazy. She’s sick.” He reached to unlock his door.
At that moment the ground beneath the van rumbled ominously. Tree branches fell on the hood and in the distance they could hear the clatter of tree trunks crashing down to the forest floor. The rumble eventually stopped and John and Marsha sat very still, their animal instincts screaming danger.
The sky glowed red and indigo in the distance.
Marsha reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand. “I think we should listen to Fred.”
John and Marsha’s weariness had overcome wariness sometime around dawn. They didn’t walk down the trail as they’d planned, so they didn’t see their daughter walk down the trail stark naked and steaming in the cold winter air, pause beside a bush about 50 m from the trail head and pull out the gear bag she’d left behind, and don the change of clothing. She ate three chocolate bars and a fruit roll up, wrapper and all. She also, as an afterthought, ate one of the metal tent pegs and found it agreeable.
Lydia’s knock startled her parents awake. They rushed out like they hadn’t seen her in years instead of merely a day. They were thrilled to see her acting her usual self. Maybe this was all it would take to get their baby back.
“Well, kiddo? How was it? Were you warm enough?” John smiled down at his daughter. He casually checked her forehead and confirmed that the fever was gone, draping an arm over her shoulder at the same time. He squeezed his wife on his other side and enjoyed the feeling of having his family in his arms.
“Yes. I made the lake boil, but I chose one that only gets melt runoff, so I didn’t kill any fish.”
Only John’s arm around her kept Marsha from hitting the ground.
“That’s … super, kiddo. Just super. How about all that junk food, eh?” John decided his wife’s state of delusion seemed like a nice place to be.
“I ate a grizzly bear.”
Marsha chuckled weakly, pulling herself upright and plucking at the balls on her sweater. “Well that’s lovely, dear. Does that mean you’re too full for pizza?”