From the author: It isn’t easy taking a dragon on vacation…
Emryr pinches the boarding pass between her claws. Her ruby nostrils flare, and a wisp of smoke—fortunately not large enough to set off any alarms—emerges from one of them. “Economy? You promised this would be an adventure.”
“It will be,” I say, shifting my luggage on my hip as I pull up the code for our tickets on my cell phone and scan it at the kiosk. What could be more adventurous than flying to Hawaii to observe an active volcano? Though I’m beginning to think that when I finally gave in to Emryr’s griping and let her choose this year’s vacation spot, I should’ve limited her options to locations that didn’t require a six-hour flight.
Six hours. Ten times as long as the bus ride it took to get us to the airport, where Emryr nearly got us kicked off for trying to eat another passenger’s emotional support hamster (apparently, it’d been squeaking insults at her). Twenty times longer than the walk to the bus stop, where she nearly barbequed a fire truck because its siren sounded too much like a rival clan’s battle cry.
She snorts and follows me to the baggage counter. “Your idea of an adventure is driving across town without the GPS on.”
“All this?” the airline attendant asks, taking in the hoard of suitcases and duffel bags I deposit on the belt.
I nod wearily and Emryr cranes her scaly neck, counting each one to ensure they’re all there. “I still say we should’ve brought my armour,” she mutters. “You never know when you might need it.”
“You haven’t needed it in centuries,” I remind her as I hold out my phone to let the attendant scan my virtual wallet, marveling that the numbers on the register grew so large so quickly. “Besides, I didn’t say you couldn’t bring it. I just said I wasn’t going to carry it.”
“I am not a beast of burden,” Emryr scoffs.
At the security gate, I toss my phone into the plastic tub and slip off my shoes. The guards gesture for me to step through the metal detector while they scan my carry-on bag.
“What’s in here?” a security agent asks, unzipping the carry-on.
“A treasure chest full of gold coins.”
I glare at Emryr. “It helps her relax.”
“And those?” He points into the bag at a bundle of dead rats.
“She gets hangry. You know how it is.”
Obviously he does not, but he passes me the bag anyway, shaking his head and looking somewhat green. I sit and check my email while I wait for Emryr to come through.
She stands in the middle of the security checkpoint, spinning like a rotund music-box ballerina as four security officers frown and grumble and wave their wands along her scarlet tail and serpentine neck. The metal detectors beep incessantly, and Emryr makes a show of extracting from beneath her scales some ancient slivers of rusted armour and snapped-off bits of swords, saying things like, “Oops. I’d forgotten about that one,” and “That was from when Sir Bezzanine tried to slay me back in the fourteenth century,” and “You look a bit like a wizard with that wand. I love wizards—they taste so sparkly.”
These stories obviously have the desired effect. Not only do the pale-faced guards decide against a full pat-down, but by the time she finally steps through to join me in the terminal, a toothy grin stretched across her face, a crowd of people have gathered and are blatantly staring at Emryr and holding their phones up to film her.
“Airports are so fun, aren’t they?” Emryr says, flicking her tail giddily. “It’s like being on a quest. I wonder why people don’t go on quests anymore.”
We stop for coffee—me a plain black brew and her a day’s worth of used grounds she talks the barista into dumping into a trash can for her and topping off with boiling water.
“You suppose the coffeewitch dropped in some poison while I wasn’t looking?” Emryr asks as she sniffs her drink.
“She’s not a witch,” I say, “and no, I don’t think she poisoned it.”
Emryr frowns, then downs the trash can in one gulp.
“Oh, look,” she says, tossing it aside. “They’re boarding!”
She digs her claws into my arm and drags me forward, leaving the remains of my coffee in a puddle behind us.
“They’re boarding Group A,” I say when we finally come to a stop at the gate.
“What group are we?”
I consult my electronic boarding pass. “G.”
Emryr scowls and slumps onto a nearby seat, blowing ring-shaped puffs of ashy frustration from her snout.
“You’re blocking two electrical outlets,” I point out as I sit beside her and open a word game app.
“What if someone needs to use them?”
“They can ask. Oh! Maybe I’ll come up with a riddle for them to solve to prove their worthiness.”
No one asks. They just glare, their charger cords dangling.
“Group G,” the lady at the desk finally calls.
Emryr leaps up, reaching the front of the line in one bound. “Hurry up,” she calls to me.
The carry-on straps dig into my neck as I fumble with my phone to pull up the boarding passes, and then we’re being herded through the gate and onto the already-crowded jet.
“Pardon me. Coming through. Watch the tail.” Emryr’s voice booms down the aisle, all the way to the very back row. “By the bathrooms?” she groans.
“They were the only seats left.” I struggle to maneuver the carryon into the overhead compartment.
“Dibs on the window seat.”
Emryr presses her nose against the window, fogging up the glass as she watches our luggage being loaded. When the plane starts speeding down the runway, she claps in excitement, her knees rattling the seat in front of us. The man sitting there turns to glare at us, and I pretend not to notice.
“Hold on, everyone!” Emryr shouts, as the metal beast takes to the skies. A bellow of pain follows. “Ow, too fast! My ears!”
I pass her a pack of cinnamon gum and plug my noise-canceling earbuds into my phone as the wrappers scatter and the chomp-chomp-chomping in the seat beside me begins. More passengers turn toward us, and I turn my music up and pretend not to notice them, either.
I wake only two hours later, my body sore from being squeezed into a fraction of my seat’s full size; Emryr’s tail takes up the rest. She’s surrounded by a hoard of plastic cups and Styrofoam plates and torn-up in-flight magazines and discarded rat tails. The glaring stewardess leaning over me to pass her another pack of peanuts looks ready to use her plastic fork as a weapon.
I tug the earphones out.
“Thank goodness you’re awake,” Emryr says. “This stewardess won’t let me see a map. How am I supposed to know what dangers lie ahead if I don’t have a map?”
“We’re about to make an unscheduled landing,” the stewardess tells me, no longer even attempting to fake a cheery disposition. “I suggest you help your friend get ready.”
“I hate flying,” Emryr says, hugging her treasure chest and sticking out her forked tongue at the stewardess’s back. “People in planes are no fun; they wouldn’t even let me into the cockpit to help the pilot steer. How can you all just sit there the whole time, without a thing to do?”
“I suppose,” I say, shrugging, “it’s because we’re not dragons.” I pat her knee in sympathy, help her gather up the trash, and check to make sure our seatbelts are properly buckled.
Throughout the plane, babies are crying, kids are shouting, and the stewardesses are whispering to one another, their glances shooting in our direction more often than can be coincidence.
“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” Emryr whispers as the plane touches down and begins its taxi to the gate. Her giant, gemstone-clear eyes are shiny with regret. “Did I mess everything up again?”
“I just wanted this to be an adventure.”
We sit in silence a moment, watching as a trio of security guards board the plane and converse with the stewardesses.
“They’re going to kick us off, aren’t they?”
“Probably.” I sigh, wondering if I could talk them into just giving her a warning. She hasn’t really done anything wrong, and it’s partly my fault. I should’ve known better—dragons aren’t meant to fly like this.
“We could make a daring escape,” Emryr says hopefully, gesturing with one long claw to the panel beside her. “I could pop this side off and you could ride on my back like a medieval knight, and we could leap over those fences and be miles away before they knew what hit them.”
I can’t help but smile at the thought. “You know we can’t do that, Emryr.”
“Why not?” She looks hurt. “You don’t think I’m strong enough? Brave enough? You think I’ve forgotten how?”
“No, nothing like that. It’s just—these planes cost a fortune.”
“Oh, that’s no problem.” Her lips stretch out in a toothy grin and she holds out her scaly hand. “Come on. Just once, let’s go have a real adventure. Come with me—we’ll both be dragons.”
Me, a dragon? My gaze flicks to the security guards drawing nearer, to the cell phone in my lap and the minute-by-minute itinerary on the screen. I gaze out the window, imagining the emerald-green jungles of Hawaii and the smoke from the active volcano rising in the distance, and I let myself wonder, just for a second, what it’d be like to do it Emryr’s way.
I nod, and Emryr lets out a deafening roar. She grips a mangled piece of the plane in her jaws. The other passengers gape and scream as I climb onto her back, tossing my phone aside.
Laughing, we leap from the plane and charge across the runway, the wind in our faces and our bearings set for Hawaii, leaving behind the smelly cabin with its uncomfortable seats, the security guards still shoving their way down the aisle, and a treasure chest filled with enough gold coins to buy a dozen 747s.
This story originally appeared in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.