DANCE WITH THE RED DRAGON - A Love Story That Almost Was
TWISTED HISTORY & MYTH - Adventures in Fantasy World-Building
...My bedroom was upstairs behind frosted-glass French doors. The sunlight slanted down upon my new bed and the warm, hardwood floors. It was a magical room, and I spent many hours putting together a series of cute Kim Anderson puzzles on the floor. Do you remember those? They were all the rage in those days. The black-and-white photos of darling kids in lovestruck poses, always with one splash of red--a balloon or a hat or a rose. Kyle and I exchanged those cards when we were feeling romantic. I was deeply in love, don’tcha know, so I constantly felt that way.
But behind the scenes, I was being stalked and I didn’t know it.
A dragon had snuck up to breathe down my neck, lurking in wait for the moment when he could snag my pen and demand words from it. He watched me match shapes and align lovey-dovey hues. He watched me snap pieces together and beam in triumph as a chunk of the image came clear. After I’d pieced the border together, I always hunted down the crimson flashes first.
The Red Dragon liked that.
How very adorable he found me (as he licked his dagger-sharp chompers). There he waited in his cave. Huge and hunkering. Scales both scarlet and shiny black. Firelight glowed from behind, illuminating the shape of him. It outlined the size of his teeth within the furnace of his grin. It pulsed in his eyes with his every breath like coals pumped by a bellows.
In the beginning, he was little more than molten eyes in the dark corners of my room as evening fell--just one. more. piece--before I dragged myself off the floor to turn on the overhead light. I would feel that weighty gaze before I glimpsed it. But whenever I would turn to look--nothing. I could only understand what I was looking at from the corners of my eyes. His were reptilian. Piercing. Forever laughing.
Except when they weren’t.
His laughter came next. Mostly breath in the beginning, later a devious chuckle, occasionally a ferocious snarl as that huge body whipped away and vanished into the black. Eventually he began speaking to me. Riddled. Ancient. Impatient. Ageless. I annoyed him. He aggravated me. I fascinated him. Mostly because of my incessantly curious questions, where he was far more accustomed to terror from his prey. I think my smartass poking infuriated and intrigued him most.
Who the fuck pokes dragons?
Um…yeah. That’d be me.
I’ve told you that I used to have dreams about grabbing the Devil by the collar of his leather jacket and slamming him up against the wall to ravish his cinder-coated mouth with a kiss, haven’t I? Well, it wasn’t much different, being snout-to-nose with the Red Dragon. But when I kissed him, I wasn’t aggravated and he wasn’t annoyed.
Naturally, I wasn’t me in these moments. I was some pesky human female who had found herself trapped down there with him. This is often how fiction comes to me before my mind and keyboard are hijacked for a multi-month regurgitation at whip-point.
“Fastahhhh! Write fastahhhh, mortal!” Whoo-TSH!
At that point, all I can do is put Butt In Chair and try to keep up with the fire-hosing. Sometimes it comes in such a deluge that I have to start writing in shorthand. No matter. I always know what it means. Other times, it’s like I wake up from a trance and have no idea what I’ve pounded out until I read it.
But first, it prowls me. A whisper. A nudge. Flashes. Dreams.
With this one, sometimes I was the dragon, looming over the pesky female that is me…yet not me. It doesn’t matter the gender or race or species of the character, and it doesn’t matter if they are the protagonist or not. Whoever’s point of view hijacks my skull first, it’s always first-person. Sometimes it switches back and forth. More rarely it’ll pull back to show the whole scene, the way a movie does. But in the beginning, it’s always an intimate, personalized affair.
The image of this dragon’s cave and his Sea of Fire has stayed with me through the decades. It belongs to Haides now. It feeds the Pyriphlegethon--the Underworld’s River of Fire. Once the King of the Dead claimed Persephone, it became Hers as well. She laid equal claim to it, the moment He fucked Her inside one of its molten pillars.
As for the the dragon’s name…it now belongs to an island-dwelling man who is predominantly kissed by fire, although he can wield any element with ease. He is a warrior and a master painter. His hair is black, except when it’s flame-hued. He is notorious and outrageous and grounded and thoughtful. He is as deep and turbulent as the sea, with a mind as expansive and misty as the sky above. He’s a philosopher, a whimsical poet, wise and yet childlike. He is a teacher--often a hard one--who teaches combat with a paint brush and painting with a sword. He’s inherited the Red Dragon’s arrogance, his testiness, and his impatience since his mind works so rapidly over a myriad things at once…
Until he stills himself and breathes.
His Breath of Fire could sway granite into swooning. And it did.
My hedgy panic eased. My sword lowered. I removed my armor, plate by steel plate until I was rendered naked before him. “Put down that rock,” he said. “Lie down. Bare your neck…” Words that echoed through the cavernous pit. That smoldering voice. Those intrigued, engaging eyes. When I trusted him--when I put down the rock, closed my eyes and tipped back my head--he didn’t take my throat out. He only burned me to a cinder in the best of ways. From him, I learned to wield the wind and how to use it to control my own fire. He carried me, soaring, to the most unimaginable heights, and he promised he would never let me fall.
Then he flew west to California. When he left, I watched the silhouette of wings against the clouds chase and then overtake the sun. I watched them until they fully disappeared. I’m not sure if he ever knew that. Afterwards, I went home alone. I climbed the stairs. I shut my faerie-frosted doors and curled up on my bed. I didn’t cry. Not that time. We’d done most of that already.
We’d shot our kiss-n-cry photos at the end of my sophomore year before the summer put four hours between us. Cheek-to-cheek or gazing eye-to-eye, we let the timer on his camera capture the farewells we made on the bed of his on-campus bedroom, just two buildings down from mine. The next morning, he moved back to his mom's place across the state so he could teach karate in the hopes of earning enough money for art school in Pasadena. I cried when he left again after visiting me in my patio-furnace. The fan and the breeze through the open windows cooled the sweat of our overheated bodies as I lay listening to his gargantuan heart with my head on his chest. I cried after leaving his mom’s place, and we had a final round of kiss-n-cry in the airport with her, his sister, and our best girl Kelly.
What? We’re artists and eternal romantics and the last thing we wanted was to be parted from each other.
But he had to go, and I had to let him.
While we were separated by two thousand miles that first time, and throughout his returns whenever he came back to earn money for another semester, I tried to hold onto that dragon tale. I got a new mini-notebook--teal this time--to write down the fledgling names and details of the dragons that existed in my budding world. Alas, that notebook has long since flown as well, lost to one of my own moves.
But just as I can still picture sitting beside Kyle in his car, shop-talking dragons and scribbling in that notebook with my four-color pen, I can still hear the Red Dragon’s voice. I can still glimpse snippets of the scenes on the banks of that fire sea in the daunting cavern. I can still feel his scales and the rippling way they moved beneath my palm the first time he let me touch him. I can taste his breath with my eyes shut.
But he would never fully alight for me so I could capture him with my pen. We just didn’t have enough time together.
June 1, 2021
48 years old
Ahhhh, walleye, how I adore thee. Today I relish in the leftovers from yesterday’s Memorial Day Feast with the Parentals. Like usual, we had corn bread muffins and cheesy ‘taters as well. I need to eat up all the little mozzarella balls today, because once I fall asleep tonight, I won’t be eating or drinking anything again until sometime tomorrow afternoon. Late morning at the earliest. Then I'll only get to slurp.
I have dental surgery tomorrow. Joy-joy. So I need something entertaining and inspiring. I’ve been on a dragon kick lately. Probably all that writing about Kyle, drafting the tales of our story. Dragons dominated my days back then, along with dancing, so it’s all swirling in my head. Last night I watched my namesake, Toothless. I swear, if I was a dragon, I’d be him. Lots of other people swear that, too, and not only because he’s incredibly feline and a little bit obnoxious puppy dog, in addition to being ferociously reptilian. There’s also…
Alas, only the initial How To Train Your Dragon movie is on Prime, so I click through the similar listings and--
And there he is. Whumphing wings, blazing eyes, looming grin and all.
The Red Dragon.
I call him that, even though he isn’t purely red. In truth, his scales are mostly black but when he blazes…well…he lives up to his name.
Push Play, missy.
The thrum travels through the remote into my hand, urging me to put this movie on. Um…okay…? It’s called I Am Dragon. Once I read the description, oh yeah, I am totally down, so I click on the show and settle in.
(If you’re into dragons and tails--dang it, fingers--tales like this and you don’t want the full magic of this movie spoiled, seriously, go watch it now before you read the rest of this post. Here's the trailer:)
The first time we see the dragon ignite, I understand why the Muse told me to play this show today.
Wrapped up in my snugglies, I am engulfed by my theory, but I watch the whole movie to make absolutely certain that I am seeing what I think I’m seeing. I have to know how they deal with the ending to know for certain.
See, this is my problem. It’s always been my problem. I’ve always believed that Toothless didn’t chomp Hiccup to bits for one reason: Hiccup used the knife on the ropes instead of the dragon. I’ve always believed that the Dragon and the Princess can find love…twue wuv. I’ve always believed in this story, but most of the drakonian beasts I’ve petted and befriended have chomped me. Hard.
Watching this movie reminds me of the rosy-eyed, open-armed girl I used to be. I honestly can’t say if I would ever take that risk again--to be like her.
There’s one exception: in writing fiction where I get to control all the characters and the outcomes, and I don’t have to pay the prices for the mistakes they make.
Because I’ve never loved the knight the way I always loved the dragon. But not all dragonhearts are kind within their depths. Some are hardened and shriveled up like dried peas. Some are actually infuriated by genuine kindness. Some take advantage of it. Some only want it from the hand of a sweet, gentle, innocent princess, and I am just as much Beast as I am Bella--just as much Beast as they are, and many beasties don’t appreciate that.
For decades I sought for one who would.
I don’t do that anymore.
After the movie ends, I lie back on my loveseat and ruminate about what I just saw. My heart glows like the dragon’s. So do my eyes, for I might not have ever gotten to join my life in everlasting love with him. Instead, he pumped his fire inside me and he rendered me to ash. Something new was reborn from the cinders. My armor had been fire-blasted into supple scales, and he’d made a small, incinerating fury of me.
Both of these dragon movies give me hope--no longer because I yearn to find my dragon and love him, train him, pet him, call him George. More so, I am captivated by the idea that the dragon could ever be loved as-is, especially by the part inside me that is still sweet and rosy-eyed. They dance together within me now, my fire-breathing ferocity and my gentleness.
It takes both of them to be reborn out of the ash, over and over and over again.
Phoenix & Red Dragon
Fall Frolics 2010, Rhode Island
(and yes, those are hints of Kenpo in there)
Although I performed this dance in multiple locations, this is the only recording I have of it. Since it's angled off to the side, it couldn't truly capture some of the poses. Here is a bit more of what it looked like:
Considering how I was called to costume this piece, I was blown away by the costume and setting choices of that movie--all the white-with-red accents and the dangling pearls. There were so many eerie things like that as I watched it.
This dragon tale that burned in my heart from the end of 1993 into 1994 flitted away from my grasp and it never came to sit near me again. Not near enough that I could capture it and write it as I originally envisioned it.
But somebody did.
After clicking off the TV, I googled the movie and learned that the somebody is actually a Russian couple. Their book, The Ritual, was the basis for I Am Dragon.
It was published in 1996.
And the couple lives in California.
My big dragonheart bursts into overjoyed dancing flames over that fascinating trivia. Who knows how long this tale burned inside the authors. Who knows if it was with one of them as a child or if it crept up on them slowly through the early 90s. Who knows if it hit them like a blast of dragonfire the moment he flew away from me.
Stories do that.
Read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic if you don’t believe me. It absolutely is magical the way that tales will bounce from one mind to another until they’re able to land in the correct heart and have life breathed into them.
I’m thrilled with the way my dragon was born into someone else. This was the story. This was the feeling. This was the way it always ended in my mind.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: IN DARKNESS IT SHINES - The Flash of a Drakonian Tale
--OR: if you missed the first monster I ever loved and wrote about, you can find him and his sweet little playmate HERE.