“You must have the Dragon Chilli, for the heat. You’ll need to chew and swallow, fast. The faster those juices get into your system, the better this will work.” The young shop assistant scratched the flaky skin on the back of his hand. “This is the only way to take dragon form. Well, not the only way, but you said you needed a quick fix, so I doubt you’ve got time for years of meditation to build a working relationship with your inner dragon.”
Eliza shook her head. “No. I’ve got three days, at most.”
“Well you’ve got the details now. Here’s the potion.” He pushed a soft parcel into her hands; orange silk tied with a purple ribbon. “Remember, the chilli is the key. Good luck!” He gave her a smile and wave, closing the door with a sharp click.
“Chant, potion, chilli.” She reread her list. Better get shopping.
The Dragon Chilli proved difficult to find. It wasn’t at the corner store, or the local supermarket.
“They’re quite rare,” the green grocer informed her. “Gloves need to be worn to harvest the chilli, and then they need to be stored in specially sealed packaging so as not to burn the skin or eyes of a passer-by. I doubt you’ll find any locally.”
Luckily for Eliza, the health food shop had one in stock. She cringed at the expense, but pushed the thought aside. Once she was a dragon she’d never have to worry about money again.
Once home she cleared a space in her lounge room; pushing the sofa against one wall, and the coffee table against another. She rolled up the rug to reveal the polished wooden floorboards beneath.
“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”
She sat in the centre of the space and untied the ribbon, letting the orange silk fall open. Inside was a tiny bottle, labelled: ‘sugar, water, dragon’s blood, flavour, colours (366) and (zdk259)’. There was also a small candle, an incense cone, and a folded piece of paper.
She sat the candle in a small holder, the incense cone on a tiny dish. She placed the Dragon Chilli in front and lit the candle and incense, closing her eyes for a moment to visualise herself as an enormous red dragon.
She picked up the piece of paper, and read the strange words aloud.
“Draak, Draco, Drakon,” she recited. “Drac, Draca, Draaki.” She took a breath before continuing. “Ahteen, Zmai, Khoth! Vovin, Arach, Drakeen.” She pulled the cork from the tiny bottle and tipped it up, and three drops of the thick red liquid dripped onto her tongue. She waited, but… nothing.
What next? Her eyes landed on the small red pepper. The Dragon Chilli.
She picked up the chilli and split open the plastic packaging. Instantly her eyes began to sting, so she popped it in her mouth.
“Aarggh!” Liquid fire exploded as her teeth pierced the tough skin. She opened her mouth to suck in cooling air but the instead it burned as it flowed into her lungs. She began coughing violently, and raced to the kitchen to spit out the offending fruit, but caught herself just in time.
This will turn me into a dragon. She thought of Jack, still the brunt of bullying, even in College; and her mother, struggling to cover regular household expenses. Eliza clenched her jaw and squeezed her eyes shut, sucking deep breaths through her nose, breaths that were slightly less volcanic than the ones through her mouth. Being a dragon would help with so many things.
She chewed the chilli again, wincing as another burst of lava filled her mouth. One more chew and she swallowed, collapsing onto her hands and knees as the super heated chunk burned its way down her oesophagus.
Her stomach twisted. She clawed her way across the floor back through the lounge room. She was heading for bathroom but before she made it more than a few metres she was knocked backwards by some invisible force that caused her legs to blister and swell, and her arms to stretch. The skin on the underside of her arms began to melt, dragging towards the floor.
Tears flowed down her face in a constant stream, blurring her vision. As they flowed, so too did the skin on her face.
Eliza opened her mouth to scream, but instead of the high pitched squeal she expected, a deep roar emanated from within, followed by a belch of blue fire. The flames singed the ceiling and she cringed, her attention pulled from the pain long enough to wonder whether her landlord would notice. The next burp took her by surprise, scorching her grandmother’s antique sideboard and setting the curtains aflame.
She tried to cover her mouth with her hand, but instead an enormous wing swept through the room, sending a vase off the table to shatter on the floor.
That’s when she realised how much she’d grown. She filled the entire room. Had the man said anything about the importance of doing this spell outside? She thought back to their conversation, but could not recall any such comment. She’d be trapped, stuck inside a suburban upstairs/downstairs for the rest of her days. Then she realised she wouldn’t be able to pay the rent, and wondered if the landlord would have her put down to get her out of the way.
A sharp tinkling sound drew her attention to the window where one of her now-clawed feet had gone through the glass. She was still growing! Her body pressed against the ceiling, and she felt it groan under the pressure, caving in, or rather, up, and sending a shower of plaster cascading around her. She fought to stand, pulling her foot back in through the window. Shards of glass scratched, but did not puncture, her new skin of thick, rough scales. As she got her footing she stretched and her head went up through the next ceiling and out of the roof, into the blue sky beyond.
She squinted in the glare and had to blink several times before her eyes adjusted. Old Jon’s dog was barking, and when Eliza looked, Old Jon was out cold on the ground. Jenny was desperately trying to round up her children, who were looking up at Eliza in awe. Mrs Peterson was frozen in the garden, her rose clippers open mid-trim.
The house seemed to be pressing in around her so she pushed through the front wall to get into the garden. She felt guilty at causing so much damage to the house, but shrugged it off. There was hardly anything she could do about it now.
She stretched out her wings, amazed to find that they covered not only her own front yard, but that of the neighbours either side as well, and with a few quick flaps and she was in the sky, circling and bugling her joy. She saw Jack on his way home from the university and called out a hello, but instead shot a blast of fire that singed his hair, and caught the bush behind him on fire.
Oops, might have to work on that.
Jack took one look at her and an impossibly high-pitched screech escaped his lips as he peddled his bike ever faster to get as far away as possible.
Bugger, she thought. Should’ve warned him. Oh well. It’d all be sorted out in the end, she supposed.
She lifted her head and looked across the rooftops to the massive billboard on the other side of town.
‘Dragon Festival, This Weekend. Come along for great food, games and competitions. $$$ prize for best dragon costume!’
That prize is mine! There’s no way anyone else will come as a real live dragon.
Heather Ewings is a Tasmanian author of speculative fiction. She has a MA in History and a fascination with myth and folklore. Her most recent publication is ‘Tea with Grandma’ published at Lite Lit One. Heather squeezes her writing time between homeschooling her three children and making beeswax candles.