CHAPTER ONE

CAMPFIRE AND SILVER

 

"Dragons are the most dangerous of all of God's creations. Not just for their immense size and scaly armor, or the way they breathe fire. By Lord, no. They are dangerous because of the way they can become any creature they want to be. Just as the people of the Wolf Packs may appear like normal men and women, dragons may take the form of a cat or a lamb if they so desire. They may even take the form of a wife, then BITE a man's head off in his bed."

"Tell me about it!" Jergon cracked from the other side of the campfire. A roar of laughter rang out from the ring of people, but it ended quickly. Full attention went back to the Old Captain. He never grew tired of telling these stories. As he felt the age of his very long life, he began to forget what he was told as a child and what were figments of his imagination. Whatever the case, the stories he crafted and told on nights like this captured everyone's attention. They had the alluring power of a campfire; you couldn't look away without forcing yourself.

"And ya wonder why ya sleepin' on the couch half the time." Again the woods echoed with laughter. The Captain was surprised at the response. None of them had seen a couch in fifteen years, let alone slept on one. They knew what he meant, and that meant not all was forgotten.

It was a clear night; the first touch of autumn in the air. The crackling fire bathed everyone in the same orange glow. The flame's reflection danced in the old man's faded blue eyes as the sound of logs popped into the stillness surrounding them.

"Years ago, in my grandfather's time, there was a legend of a dragon who would take the form of an old woman and live with a tribe of humans for years. If she liked them, she would protect them from wolf packs and raiders. But God help them if she hated them! She would stay amongst them for years, sometimes to see if the children would turn out better than their folks. If they didn't, she would show herself in the Town Square. Just stand there and let her eyes turn that greenish yellow with the black slits in the middle. If people stopped and noticed, she would let her skin wrinkle and scale. Then she would grow into the hideous beast she really was and lay siege to the town. Within minutes the village would be in flaming ruins. Whoever survived the attack ran for their lives, for they knew what would come next!"

"The pack?" Kyle asked, "The wolf packs and the raiders?" At the tender age of eight, Kyle knew some of the dangers threatening the tribes, but not all of them.

"Yes. The fire was like a beacon to all that a town was destroyed. They would come from hundreds of miles away to scavenge what was left." The Captain took his pipe out and filled it from the sack around his neck. Using a stick from the fire, he lit it, then continued on. "Dragons, they say, are not like humans. They have no souls. They are alone, they meet only to produce young."

"What if they marry in human form?" Kyle asked.

The Captain was surprised at this. It was one thing for a child to know of his enemies, but to know of sex? What was this earth coming to? "My Grandpa used to say that if a dragon stays in the form of a man or woman, for a hundred years, he will become a man or woman". He learned long ago to watch how he phrased things.

"Would they have a soul then?"

"I don't know." He looked at the rest of the tribe. The silver in their gun belts gleamed in the firelight. For the first time in years he saw youth and strength in the tribe. Even Jergon, with Carmon beside him, looked revitalized. It had been twenty years since the Captain walked her down the path to Jergon's arms. It seemed like yesterday. Now their daughter sat with her husband to be. Their eyes were so young and full of hope; the old captain missed his youth for a brief moment. Their numbers were growing. The boys of yesterday were now men, all with guns. And all of them were listening.

"Back before I was born, there were tales of vast charred wastelands where cities stood the day before. Burned to ashes they were. All from the breath of a single dragon."

"We could have used that last winter." the Jergon girl's beau chuckled. "Maybe we can piss one of them off for warmth before first snow." A grin spread across his face revealing the smile that won almost all women's hearts.

"If that's how ya want to stay warm this winter lad, maybe you shouldn't be getting married to young Katlin!" Captain joked.

Katlin slapped his arm. "Ya prefer a green scaly beast to me do ya?" she said looking into Randy's wide grin.

"What's the difference?"

"WHAT!" Katlin said, pulling the brim of Randy's hat down over his eyes. She stood, pushing him off his 'sitting' log.

'Oof...' He fell over easily, his boots and chaps sticking straight in the air, his spurs still twirling like tiny pinwheels.

The Old Captain just puffed away.

"You kids today. Why don't you just have sex? That's what the rest of us did." Out of the corner of his eye he caught mother Jergon's evil eye, then felt a small tug on his shirt leaf. Kyle's small white face was looking up at him.

"The children, did the dragon kill the children too?"

"Only the ones that stayed and didn't heed the warnings, son."

"Enough!" Doris Radcliff yelled, her brown eyes almost as hot as the campfire. "You're filling his head with frightening nonsense!"

"Nonsense? My good lady, there was a time that if I said 'We'll be driven from our homes by werewolves that can only be killed by silver bullets,' I'd have been locked up and given baskets to weave."

"Are the wolves as bad as the dragons Captain?" Kyle asked timidly.

"Aye, they're alike in some ways. They can both live for centuries without aging a day. They'll feed on humans if need be, but the wolves choose to be our enemies. Like the raiders, wolves hunt us in packs. Dragons stay by themselves."

Randy, now back on his perch, brushed twigs and leaves out of his hair. "That might not be a bad idea." He immediately cringed as if Katlin would strike.

"You wait 'til our wedding night, Randy. You'll find out how alone you could be!"

"Better quit while ya still in one piece boy." Tim Jergon warned. "My daughter is not one to put up with a smart mouth."

"He doesn't have to worry about the smart part of that." Katlin added.

"Marrying you is proof to that." Randy tacked on quickly. With that he bent over and gave her a kiss, the first one he gave her on the lips in the presence of her parents. Again Kyle pulled on the old man's sleeve.

"What did you mean before about them having sex?"

"TIME FOR BED KIDS!" Doris screeched as the Captain coughed out his smoke. "You've all been up way too late." A chorus of moans came out of a dozen small mouths. But before they left sulking, the Captain answered Kyle's question.

"Kyle, it means that they love and care for each other." Kyle smiled at the old timer's answer and went off with the rest. As the children left, he started in with his stories again, not knowing how true they were. The tribe of men and women listened intently as they sat around in their frontier clothes. The Captain's granddad would have called them cowpokes. And in the dark woods far behind them, the red eyes of the black wolf watched all of them.

 

 

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The wind outside the wagon sounded like the cries of a dozen old women. Kyle wrapped his blanket tightly around him as the canvas walls flapped violently. That's what a dragon's wing would sound like.

As Mrs. Radcliff feared, Kyle's head was filled with dragons and other ghouls of the night. His mother's snoring next to him didn't help matters either. Shadows passing over the top of the wagon looked liked giant claws reaching down to grab him. He knew they were only trees, but he still felt they could rip through the canvas at any moment and fly away with his body in their clutches. "They could be any creature they wanted to be" the Captain's voice reminded him. "Trees aren't creatures!" he yelled back in his head, "They're wood!" Another strong gust blew and the wagon swayed back and forth. His mother's snoring stopped for a moment then started back in again with the same rhythm.

Mustering up courage, he stuck his little hand out from under the blanket. The cold air curled around his fingers at once. He felt around for it; his mother always kept it next to her since dad died. She said it was for their protection, but Kyle knew better. It was a part of him that would be with her always. His fingers came upon it almost as soon as he reached out. The bullets felt cold in the dark. He ran his fingers along the belt until he reached the gun. The holster lay between the two of them so it could be grabbed at a moment's notice, although it would have to be a loud moment to wake her up. He ran his fingers along the handle. He didn't dare take it out of the holster. Mom would flip. But the thought of having it near put his mind at ease a little. Randy said he was going to teach him how to shoot when summer came.

Many nights he wished Randy would marry Mom instead of Katlin. He liked Katlin, but Randy would be such a good Dad. Any wolf that would try to eat him or his Mom would be shot full of silver if Randy were there. "I bet he could even kill a dragon." The voice came back with; "Randy's the best!" Now that the voice became friendlier, Kyle finally found himself going to sleep. The dragons clawing at the canvas had somehow flown away.

 

 

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It was Randy's turn to stand guard that night. They had started keeping the livestock far away from camp because too many were complaining about the smell, and what got stuck on the bottoms of boots. A few horses were kept in camp. Randy didn't think this was a good idea, keeping their escape so far away. He didn't dare voice an opinion yet, maybe in a year or so. The horses and the rest of the livestock seemed to be on edge that night. But it wasn't a full moon, so their greatest fear wasn't a threat tonight, or was it? They'd been attacked before when the moon wasn't high; in the darkness you couldn't tell for sure who was attacking. But those attacks were always light, the heavy fighting was always on the full moon. There was so much they didn't know about the Wolf Packs.

Something wasn't right; he'd had the feeling of being watched for over a week now. Then again, in the tribe, all eyes were watching him. One had no privacy nowadays. If there were something sinister around, wouldn't the horses sense it? He was letting his imagination get the better of him. What really scared him was the idea of actually marrying and having kids. He never thought that it would ever happen, but, well, it had.

"Who would have thought that I could actually be a family man?" he thought. He rolled a cigarette and lit a match off his boot. The warm smoke, especially, felt good tonight. He was surprised at how bad the weather was getting; it had been nice an hour ago. It was going to be a bad winter. He felt it coming down in his bones. The Captain's tales even got him thinking. As he looked over the horses again, he wondered what would have happened if the tribe hadn't taken him in. For all they knew he could have been a raider in exile or a spy. Maybe they saw what he was like before he did.

His bachelor party was that afternoon. Tradition demanded that the groom had to stand guard that night. His father-in-law-to-be made sure all the men were present and drinking. He had brewed the ale himself for this very occasion, welcoming his new son into the family. The son he never had. To pay his respects, Randy matched him ale for ale. And now while Randy was outside freezing his ass off, his soon-to-be father-in-law got to sleep. In one sense Randy was happy it was cold, it sobered him up.

Someone's watching! He was sure of it now. He brought up his rifle and cocked it slowly so not to make a sound. In a flash he swung around to find Katlin at the end of his rifle.

"Oh Jesus!" Katlin gasped.

Randy let go of the trigger and let out a deep sigh. All of his hopes and dreams were almost lost with just the pull of a finger. He wanted to yell his head off at her, but all he could do was wrap his arms around her instead.

"I almost killed you!" he said in a state of shock, then held her closer.

"If you squeeze me any tighter you still might!"

With that, Randy let her go. "Don't you ever sneak up on me like that!" Randy felt he might still yell his head off. "Putting a bullet in your head is not going to make my day!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't want people to see me. I brought you a blanket, the night's takin' a turn for the worse."

Randy looked down at her arms and recognized the blanket immediately. It was the one her mother was knitting for their wedding night.

"Well are ya goin' to eye it to death or wrap it around yarself?"

Without realizing it, the words escaped his mouth, "It would be a lot warmer if you shared it with me." He couldn't believe he said that. He still might lose her due to a stupid impulse.

"I beg your pardon!" Katlin snapped, "What kind of woman do you think I am?"

"Um, one that wants to keep her man warm on a cold night."

Katlin looked at him, then nodded "Why yes, you hit the nail on the head."

She wrapped the blanket around the two of them. Randy laid the rifle down and held her close again. His manhood was now fully aroused. He couldn't help but press his crotch against her. He had known many other women, but this was different. This was the love he felt he'd never know. And under the storm clouds blowing in the night, they laid on the ground and became man and wife.

 

 

 

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Kyle stood in the open field. The sun was bright in the sky, and the air had the sweet smell of summer. The mansion stood on the hill above, shaded by tremendous oak trees on either side. An intricate stone porch wrapped around the whole house. A sailboat weathervane gleamed from the chimney top. Each window reflected the outside world like a calm lake. He could see just how much work Randy had done on the place. It was beautiful. The large wooden door opened and his mother came out with a large tray. A pitcher of ice tea with glasses sat on it, as his mother's white dress ruffled in a small breeze. The weathervane turned north and he could feel the warm air wash over him. His mother was the prettiest woman alive; her wavy red hair flowed down to her shoulders.

"Kyle, honey! I made some ice tea." she called, "Randy, come join us."

To Kyle's delight, his new dad was by the woodshed chopping wood. A dozen cords of wood were piled next to the shack. Randy was the strongest man in the world, and he'd fallen in love with mom. He was still chopping wood as Kyle called to him.

"Dad! Mom wants us on the porch!" Randy stopped immediately and looked up with his big smile. Kyle didn't know which was whiter, Mom's dress or Dad's teeth.

"OK son!" Dad answered as he put on his shirt. "Be right there."

Kyle walked to the porch and his mother poured him a large glass. There were even ice cubes in it. She sat down at the wicker table the Captain had given them as a wedding gift.

"Here, son." Amy McQue smiled, "don't drink too fast, it will give you a headache."

Kyle tasted the drink. It was perfect. His new dad joined them on the porch.

"Save some for me kid. I've been working hard all day"

"Don't worry."

Randy took his drink and gave his bride a peck on the lips. He sat down and gave Kyle a wink. His parents exchanged looks, then turned to him.

"Kyle, what would you think if your mother and I said you were going to have a baby brother or sister?"

"Or both."

Kyle was overwhelmed with joy. "Really?"

"Yes, really." they both replied.

"Congratulations!" Katlin's voice added. Kyle looked down and saw his new girlfriend standing at the foot of the steps.

"This is wonderful! Isn't it Kyle? Kyle...? Kyle...'

 

 

********************

 

 

"Kyle wake up!"

Kyle's eyes flew open. There he was back in the wagon with Mom snoring away. It was all a dream and now he was pulled back to cold reality.

"Kyle!" Yukie called again. Yukie was Kyle's best friend and partner in crime. But his eyes were different. He and his dad called it A-Shin. His head was popped in the back of the wagon.

"Keep it down! You'll wake my mom."

"A herd of cattle couldn't wake her! Did you forget or what?"

"Yeah I forgot." He and Yukie were going to the old mansion tonight. Bobby Peterson dared the two of them to go inside the old house at night. They had to go. It's what men did.

"I couldn't get my dad's gun. Mom puts it under the pillow now."

Kyle felt his Dad's gun belt again. "We'll take mine. It's what men do."

"Are the bullets silver?"

"Of course they're silver! Can't kill a werewolf with lead!"

"Are ya scared?" Yukie asked with much less enthusiasm.

"No!" Kyle fibbed.

"Me neither!" Yukie lied.

"Then let's go."

The two boys set out to prove they were men. Kyle's Mom slept soundly in her canvas world. It wasn't long before she woke to the screams from outside.

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