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art by Steven R. Stewart

Distant Dragon

After a year in Europe and a year in the Middle East, L.L. Phelps moved back to the States, married a fellow Georgian, and followed him to Taiwan, where she now teaches kids to read and write in English. She spends her spare time reading her kindle, writing science fiction, studying chinese, and trying to keep her cat from destroying her husband's dog.
Mei Ling sat beside the living room window and listened as the firecrackers echoed across the city. They had been going off for days, and she was sure by now that the dragon was getting as cranky as she was from being woken up so often by the loud pops and bangs. She was sure it was only a matter of time before it took flight and she was not going to miss it this year like every year before.
Mei looked down at her red dress and matching shoes and smiled. She wondered if the dragon could see how well she had dressed today and every day in the month long celebration. She was sure that if the dragon was awake, it would not miss her bright red clothing, the braids that her mother carefully plaited into her hair, and the bright oranges and festive candies that she gave to her friends in the streets.
But Mei was not concerned about the festivities. Not even the red envelopes full of money she had received from family interested her. Mei was only concerned about the dragon. Every year she heard about the dragon and she would sit by the window and watch and wait. She wanted to see the graceful creature when it glided across the sky, bringing spring rains to the land. Every year she somehow missed it, but she was sure the flight had happened as the rains soon followed. Then the crops were plentiful and no doubt undisturbed by the evil spirits.
Her grandfather had seen the dragon when he was a child and her grandfather was the wisest and most truthful man she had ever met. Mei looked over to where he sat and smiled as the old man dozed in his seat, his eyes beautifully wrinkled with old age, his beard long and pointed like the old, wise Confucians she had seen in her school history book pictures.
Mei's cousin, Yun-Ling, was convinced that the tale their grandfather told of seeing the dragon as a child was made up. He told Mei that their grandfather's grandfather probably told him the same tale, and that Mei herself would one day tell her grandchildren the same tale to keep the legend going. But Mei was convinced her grandfather was telling the truth.
Firecrackers burst in the street below Mei's window, making both her and her grandfather jump. The old man smiled at her and asked her if she had seen the dragon yet. He rose when she shook her head and came to the window.
The sun was just setting and her grandfather smiled broadly. "It was this time of day when I saw the dragon, Little Mei," he said softly. "It was a beautiful sight. The dragon was long and floated through the air like the dragon kites carried in the celebrations."
"I wish I could see the dragon just once," Mei said softly, a hopeful look in her eyes.
"Where do you look for him?" her grandfather asked.
"The sky," she replied.
He nodded. "Yes, the sky. But not just anywhere in the sky. To see the dragon, Mei, you are going to have to see the mountains. Come with me."
Mei felt excitement run through her. Her grandfather had never told anyone the part about mountains before. She hoped that this was the year she would finally see the magical creature glide over the land for herself. She followed her grandfather out of the apartment and up three flights of stairs to the roof of the building where the mountains around the city were visible.
Her grandfather pointed to the mountains in the east. "Look towards the horizon," he said. "That's where you will see the dragon, if it is your destiny to see it."
Mei scanned the horizon as the sun set further into the western mountains. Neither granddaughter nor grandfather spoke as they scanned the mountains for movement. "Perhaps it will not fly today, Little Mei," her grandfather said softly, putting his hand on her shoulder. "And perhaps this is not the year for you to see it."
Mei was about to respond when she felt her grandfather's hand tighten, and her eyes shot to the horizon. "What is that?" she asked, seeing a moving object glow red far away in the sky above the mountains.
Her grandfather spoke softly. "It's what your heart tells you it is, Little Mei."
Mei smiled. Her parents would say it was a formation of birds far in the distance. Her cousin would insist it was a cloud turned red in the light of the fading sun. Mei Ling's children and grandchildren would listen to her story and hear the truth in her words as she spoke of the dragon she saw when she was a child.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011


I wrote this story during Chinese New Year in Taipei, Taiwan while listening to the fireworks and firecrackers all over the city for over two weeks. I have heard different things about why fireworks and firecrackers are set off during the Chinese New Year Celebration. Some say it is to scare away the dragons and some say it is to wake them up, so they will take flight and bring spring rains to the fields they fly over. Whatever the reason for the fireworks during Chinese New Year, I wrote this story from my own heartís desire to see a dragon.

- L.L. Phelps

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