7. Dragon Breath
“HOW DARE YOU!” said the dragon in a booming voice. His scales were bright yellow and shiny (like they were wet). He was more terrifying than any dragon I had ever seen in drawings. His head alone was larger than my whole body.
Ream breathed a heavy breath and then let out a puff of steam that blew over me and Deli. Soy was still tucked down behind the hut, but he said later on that he had felt it too.
"Go!” yelled Deli as she jumped between my legs to lead the way.
The three of us sprinted toward the exit door. Soy charged through first and, as Deli and I ran behind him, I felt more of the steam. This time it was much hotter. I slammed the door shut behind us and we ran as fast as we could to the tree line. I didn’t stop running until the school was out of sight. We hopped over logs and under branches. Soy and I both fell more than once, but never stopped to look back. When we were deep enough into the woods, Deli finally told us that it was okay to walk for a minute.
“He’ll have to hide in the auditorium until he can take human form again. It takes much more effort to build a disguise than to let your true form show,” she explained.
“That was a DRAGON!” yelled Soy, catching his breath.
“I don’t understand what just happened,” I muttered.
Deli replied, “Listen boys, I know this is a lot to take in, but it’s time that you started believing me. It will make this a lot easier."
Slowing up had helped me to calm down and think a little more clearly.
“Did you know that he was going to do that? Change like that?” I asked.
“I was counting on it,” she said.
“That was pretty risky, don’t you think?” Soy asked angrily. “Especially since he would’ve passed right over you and gone for the main course!”
We found the worn dirt path that led to my neighborhood. It was quiet in the woods, except for a few birds.
“What happened when you flipped that switch?” Deli asked.
“That curtain’s been broken for two years. Miss Weaver told Mr. Salazar to fix it, but he just put up a sign instead,” I told Deli. “She doesn’t mind because without a curtain falling she can bow as many times as she wants when the play is over.”
“Miss Weaver finally did something right, then,” said Deli.
I stopped in my tracks.
“How is it that you know Miss Weaver?” I asked. “And what did Ream mean back there when he asked if you’ve found ‘him’?”
Soy stopped walking, too.
Deli replied, “Okay, I’ll explain. But keep walking. We still need to get to your house, and it’s another five minutes away.”
I almost asked how she knew that, but decided not to bother.
She continued, “I’ve been watching Stagwood for a long time. My job was to find the hero before Ream did.”
“What do you mean by ‘the hero’?” I asked.
“Over twelve years ago, a hero was born here in Stagwood,” she answered.
“I was born in Stagwood twelve years ago!” said Soy.
“Yes, I know,” Deli responded. She was looking at me as she spoke, but I pretended to be interested in the leaves at my feet instead.
“Do you know who the hero is?” I asked, staring so hard at the leaves that my eyes hurt.
“We know that it’s a boy,” she said.
“Well, duh,” interrupted Soy with a proud smile, “aren’t most heroes?”
“Actually, no. About 51% of heroes are female. The males just brag a lot more about it,” Deli explained with a smaller, but louder smile.
“Yeah, well…” Soy sometimes started a sentence without knowing how to end it. “Go on,” he said.
“As I mentioned, we know that he was born here in Stagwood, and we also know that it was in the summer,” she answered.
“Right, and I was born in May. I think we’ve decided that it’s me,” said Soy.
“And when were you born?” she asked me.
My stare pierced the leaves and was well on its way to the center of the earth.
“July,” I mumbled.
“Guys, guys, guys. It’s me,” said Soy with a hand on my shoulder, “When you’re a hero, you can just… feel it.”
“For years we weren’t sure who the hero was, because not much else had been written about him,” Deli told us.
“Written by who?” I asked.
Nearby, a woodpecker was knocking on a tree. I couldn’t see where it was, but Deli had noticed the sound, too.
“The fairies write down the stories. The battles between good and evil, darkness and light, and magic and sorcery are all found in the fairytales,” she said.
“Fairies?” I asked, looking at Deli.
“Of course,” she said, “that’s why they’re called fairytales. Fairy’s tales. Who did you think wrote them?”
“People!” answered Soy.
Deli shook her head. “People can’t write the way that fairies do. Fairies are able to be places without being seen, and to know what is happening as it happens. They are the first and true storytellers.”
“Wait, are you saying… those stories are real?” I thought out loud.
“Yes,” said Deli, “as I was trying to tell you before, the creatures you’ve read about are real, and so are their adventures. And the hero of this story has the most important adventure of all ahead of them.”
"So what is it that the hero has to do? I should probably know before I get started with my heroicalisms,” Soy boasted.
“Heroics,” I corrected, “and this adventure sounds kind of dangerous.”
Deli’s eyes became serious behind her glasses. “It is. He will have to face the gravest of foes.”
Soy had lost his smile. He lowered his eyes, choosing rocks to stare at instead of leaves. “Foe, like an angry gnome?”
“Afraid not. More like a dragon," she replied.
Soy and I looked at each other. “You mean Ream? He’s part of the fairytale?” I asked.
Deli nodded and said, “Perhaps he wasn’t always meant to be, but he is now.” She looked at the trees above us.
“Guys, I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t think that I’m the hero,” said Soy definitively.
Deli smiled. “It’s all right, Soy,” she said. "After years of searching, I’ve already found him.”
“And who is it?” asked Soy.
Deli shot a glance behind us towards the path.
“There’s no time for that now,” she said, “Ream has spies all over these woods and we’ve taken too long. Unless my ears are deceiving me, they’re getting closer. It’s time to get inside.” Deli sprinted ahead with long jumps.
Soy whispered in my ear, “Okay, she might have a neck, but ears? She seriously has no idea how to frog."