There is no such thing as dragons. There never has been. They are mythical creatures that have never been real. They just do not exist.
Fossils of dinosaurs had been found. Herbivores, omnivores, even the dangerous carnivores had all been found and documented. You could go to the library or search online and see pictures. They existed. It is proven to be true. You could look up a skeleton of a pterodactyl or a T. rex and see their bones. Go into a museum and you would see replicated skeletons of them.
You would never find a skeleton or a real photo of a dragon’s fossil. They never existed.
Riley knew that for a fact because she loved dragons and had read many books about them. She knew they didn’t exist…
So how could she explain staring up at the ginormous head as she stood in front of one?
And it looked down at her, its large, orange, reptilian eyes narrowed. They were like fire, red lines coursing through them that, in their own way, looked alive with energy. There was such anger in the beast, it burned hotter than the sun.
It was focused on her, and she was afraid of what might be coming. Riley could hear the heat building in its chest as it took deep breaths. The massive chest rose and fell rhythmically, creating its own beat to a deadly song.
“Run!” the boy in the dragon’s hand yelled.
She glanced at him, then back at the dragon’s long snout, the nostrils flaring in and out.
Then there was the motion. The dragon slowly reared back and opened its snout, bearing rows of very large teeth, then launched forward, shooting out a torrent of flame at her.
She knew it was over, yet couldn’t stop herself from wondering. How had she ever gotten there to face a thing that did not exist? Just earlier that day, life had been ordinary. How had all of this gone so…terribly wrong?
Riley gazed into the mirrors at her twelve-year-old self and gave a weak smile. Her short hair, t-shirt, jeans, sneakers. It was everything she was used to seeing, and just like usual, she was unimpressed. There stood that scrawny kid with a pinched nose and small mouth. The irritating girl everyone whispered about as she snapped her fingers while she walked. It was an annoying habit, but she couldn’t help it. Being out in public made her nervous.
There was so much more to her than people saw. She knew she was something special. She just didn’t know how… Not when she saw the reflection that stared back at her.
Come on. I have to be more than this. I am Riley, and you know what? I am going to be cool. Everyone who is anyone knows that.
Well, at least her best friend, Suzy, knew that.
And Riley dressed cool. Sure, she pulled her jeans up a little too high, but it worked for her because she was just that awesome. Along with the Captain Marvel t-shirt and her bright purple knee-high socks…
Well, it just didn’t fit on others, but she rocked it, because she was Riley. Everyone who was anyone loved her.
She sighed. No wonder she only had one friend. Who would want to be friends with someone boring like her? She sucked at sports, knew more about comics than anyone else in her class, hated doing dress-up or playing with dolls, and couldn’t tell anyone how to farm, even though their small town was surround by corn and wheat fields. It wasn’t that farming was bad, but she had grown up in the city. Moving here was thanks to her great, ever-so-smug father, who decided they needed to move from the city to smalltownsville.
She jumped when someone pounded on the door of the bathroom.
“Come on. Some of us have to go,” Suzy yelled.
She kept her eyes locked on her reflection. Her smile faltered. She had almost done it. Sometimes it was hard to not lose herself to a daydream, imagining herself as something more than the dork she was. Reality peeled back the layers she had crafted for herself and she saw the oddity she would always be.
“What are you doing in there?” Suzy asked, exasperated.
“Pondering the meaning of life,” she said, her tone mocking.
“Yeah, well, when you get a life to ponder over, let me know. Until then, hurry it up.”
She walked out of the bathroom and sat on the bed as Suzy rushed in and slammed the door.
Dang, she really did have to go.
“So, what’s the meaning?” Suzy called through the door.
Riley leaned back on the bed, looking up at a poster for some boy band on her friend’s ceiling. Just like on all the walls surrounding her. From every direction, she was stared at by a collection of different boys from bands she couldn’t stand.
“The meaning of life is to not be obsessed with some yucky crap music.”
“Okay, Miss Know-It-All. What is the meaning of life?”
Suzy didn’t have a chance to answer before her mother came whooshing into the room, holding a large, plastic basket filled to the brim with folded clothes.
“Oh now what are you two on about? Making plans for world domination?” Ms. Rowling asked as she set the laundry down near the dresser. She looked up, looking at Riley in the mirror.
“Oh, nothing much. Just debating the meaning of life. Nothing too important.”
She raised a brow. “Well now, didn’t you know? The meaning of life is to eat as much good food as you can and to pass on your knowledge to others.”
Suzy’s mom had an Irish accent that always sounded funny to Riley, sometimes getting both girls to laugh at the way she said something. Suzy said her mom came from the “old country”, whatever that meant, but they’d lived in Somniville for as long as Suzy could remember.
“I agree with the food part,” Suzy said as she emerged from the bathroom.
Her mom rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t I know. Someday that’ll catch up with ya.” She looked at the pair sitting on the bed. “And you won’t have that teenage metabolism.”
“Nah, I’ll stay like this forever.” Riley gave her a sheepish smile.
She always enjoyed being at Suzy’s house because it felt so homey. It was so much more welcoming than being home with her dad. Ever since Riley had moved to town, Ms. Rowling had been good to her and had started to feel like her second mom, though Riley hadn’t seen her mother in years. She didn’t know if it was because Suzy was her best friend or if it was just her mom’s nature because she was a kindergarten teacher. Either way, being there was comfortable.
It was the rest of the town that made her feel like an outsider.
The room had grown quiet as Ms. Rowling studied them, probably wondering just what they were up to. She had to know they had something planned. Her gaze lingered just a tad too long on each of them. She could probably read it in their faces…or in their minds. Moms were crazy that way, having an uncanny ability to sense when trouble was lurking.
When she smiled and left the room, Riley let out a long breath and turned to Suzy.
“What? That you’re an idiot?” She waved her hand through the air. “Yeah, we’ve known that for the last year.”
Riley huffed. “You know what I mean.”
“She doesn’t know, but you’re still an idiot. You’re going to get yourself killed. Is it really worth it just to try and impress Chad?”
“I’m not doing it for him.”
“Uh-huh. See? You’re an idiot.”
“It’ll be okay. We’ll do it once and that’s it. What else do we have to do today? You’ll record it, then…” Riley held up her arms triumphantly, “I…will…be…a…goddess!”
Suzy snorted. “No. You’re just going to be dead.”
Riley lowered her arms, frowning. “Just hit the record button.”
“But you can’t be serious. There’s no reason for you to do this.”
“Chad Johnson did it.”
“He only said he did it.”
“That’s why we are going to record it. That way, I’ll have proof.”
“But like I said, what good will that do if you’re dead? They call it Deadman’s Curve for a reason.”
Riley waved her off. “That’s only to scare people from trying to skateboard down it.”
“And what are you going to do?”
She smiled. “Skateboard down it.”
Suzy threw a pillow at her. Riley grabbed it as she fell off the bed, face contorted in faux pain, as though the pillow had been a bullet. She rolled on the floor, then turned to her friend, both laughing.
“What’s going on up there? You two aren’t wrestlin’, are ya?” Ms. Rawling called from downstairs.
“No, Mom,” Suzy yelled, but she gave Riley a mischievous sideways glance that made her unsure if she was about to be tackled.
“Come on. Grab your camera,” Riley said, scrambling off the floor.
“I’m not taking my camera. Mom would get suspicious. I’ll just use my phone.”
“That works. Come on. Let’s go.”