From the author: A story of loneliness, Christmas, and dragons.
It was Christmas, and he was fucking alone, except for some polite emails and spam. Huge fucking city, and he was alone. He listened to the sounds of the street, quieter than usual today. Most people had decided to stay hidden inside their houses, maybe to convince themselves that they weren't alone, or maybe to be alone, or maybe because they really weren't alone. He made himself eat, watch TV, check the computer for emails. He ignored the phone. That evening, he looked outside, into the quiet streets, up at the small cold moon above.
He watched it for awhile, until he heard something at the door.
Something brushing at his door. He frowned a little, turned his head. It had been nothing, probably. Almost certainly nothing. But what the hell. He walked to the door, opened it, looked up and down the hallway. Nothing, except a small box, wrapped in blue wrapping paper, tied with silver ribbon.
When he unwrapped it, he found a small glass dragon, its head tinged with blue.
So he hadn't quite been forgotten at Christmas after all. He looked at the box. No note; no word. The glass dragon was oddly warm to the touch. He placed it on his table, and then forgot about it.
He didn't have to be alone, of course. That was the worst part of it. The woman at the bar three nights ago, who'd been a little desperate, yes, but available. And the girl he'd been talking to online. She'd had things to do in the morning, yes, but she could have joined him in the evening, if he'd asked. He'd had wine, exotic edibles, some leftover crackers and cheese, various chocolates he'd picked up over the holidays, and he could have gotten more. He hadn't asked. He could have called either one today, too. No, he didn't have to be alone.
Not that either of them were why he was alone.
He cleaned the house. Read a book. Did not look at the phone. Checked email a couple of times, sent some meaningless things to a few friends, caught up on blogs, thought about heading out to get groceries. In the end, he sat on the couch, letting the sound of the television roll over him, until that evening, when the brushing sound was at his door again. He looked at the door, looked at the television. What the hell.
The hallway was empty except for another small box, this one wrapped in dark green velvety paper, and a gold ribbon. He picked up the box and carried it to his table, staring at it for awhile. Finally, he pulled the ribbon, and the box fell apart.
Two small glass dragons, heads tinged with green. And – he blinked – one of them seemed to be moving.
Too much holiday spirit. He put the glass dragons on a bookshelf, and fell asleep on the couch.
He didn't drink much. Never had. This seemed like the right moment. Some relative somewhere had sent him one of those gift assortments of various liquors, with the clear message of "I have no idea what you'd like, but I'm showing off how much money I can spend on you." He ignored the message and opened the box. Far too many sugary things – raspberry and cherry cordials and the like. Not his sort of thing at all.
A few hours later, his mouth swarming with sweetness, he stared at the three dragons on his bookshelf. It could have been his swarming vision, but something seemed wrong there. After awhile, he remembered what it was – he'd only put two dragons up on the bookshelf, and yet, all three of them were up there, two of them with necks intertwined, almost looking as if they were huddling together for warmth. Heh. Like dragons, let alone glass dragons, would need warmth.
He needed warmth.
He should call her. No, he shouldn't.
He thought he heard the brushing sound again. Or maybe not; his ears were ringing and his head was pounding, and the TV had somehow or other turned on loudly enough to drown out almost everything except his own thoughts. He couldn't have heard that brushing sound.
He got up and walked to the door anyway.
When he opened it, he felt a rush of cold. But of course. It was the holidays, the cold season. He looked up and down the empty hallway, looking for some sign of whatever it was that might have caused that sound. He saw nothing. He started to shut the door, and saw them: three small boxes wrapped in red wrapping paper with golden ribbon. He picked up the boxes, noting that they had been wrapped with that sort of fake velvety paper, soft to the touch, and they were warm.
Now he was intrigued. Who the hell would do something like this? He scooped the boxes up into his hands and brought them to the table, setting them down. Three warm glowing boxes. He knew what was in them. He thought about opening them. His hands reached out to begin to unwrap --
Stupid. Stupid. People leaving small boxes with small glass dragons was just stupid. He was still alone, life still sucked, and he needed to be drinking a lot more.
He thought he heard something tinkling, the sound of crystal hitting crystal, but he ignored it, and staggered off. Drink. Bathroom. Bed. In more or less that order.
When he looked behind him, the boxes had unfolded, and three small red dragons crouched in the velvety wrapping paper.
Forget it. He simply wasn't drinking enough.
He ignored the tinkling sounds behind him as he staggered off to bed.
He could call her. Really call her. It wasn't New Year's yet. He had no plans; knowing her, she probably didn't have plans either. She'd never been much of a New Year's person. He wasn't either.
That night, four glass dragons arrived by his door, wrapped in gold paper and golden ribbon, with tiny golden bells. Unlike the others, these dragons came in many colors, colors that seemed to shift as he moved them under the light. And he thought – he thought – he could hear them humming.
He needed to find a fucking job. She'd said so. Others said so. His checking accounts and credit cards were about to say so. A job. Any job. He could start playing again, find a club or coffeehouse somewhere and play a couple evenings a week, maybe more. Record a CD – hell, he could do something himself with the equipment he had, start selling a few, or upload something to ineem.com or another one of those websites. Get discovered. Add happiness to the world and all that.
Or even just pour beer. Something.
But later. In a few days. Once January started. Nobody ever looked for a job right before the New Year. It was wrong. And nobody would be hiring anyway, not now. He'd wait for the New Year, spend the next few days figuring it out. He put his guitar into the closet, pulled it out again, put it back in.
The brushing sound came to his door again. He sighed, and thumped over to the door, knowing more or less what he would see. Sure enough, five boxes, in brilliant shimmering purple paper.
Who the hell was sending him dragons?
They couldn't be from her. For one thing, she'd never been that into dragons – she'd read the occasional fantasy novel, watched the occasional fantasy movie, got all hot over that good looking elf in Lord of the Rings, but that was it. No dragon obsession, not that he'd been aware of. Plus, these weren't her sort of dragons. If she had bought dragons, they would have been the fat cutesy ones from Hallmark with the annoying smiles. Not ones like these, delicately shaped, the work of master glassblowers. He bent down to one of the multicolored ones, marveling at the expression caught on its face, coy and withdrawing all at once. And the wise knowing expression on that one, and the clownish expression on the third. And the colors. The glass dragons shimmered in the light, and their colors glowed brightly; these were works of art. Not something she would have bought at all.
So who the hell had sent them?
For a moment, it intrigued him. His fingers itched, the way they did when he wanted, needed, to play something, to send the music out, to get it out of his system. And then he shook his head. Whatever. It didn't matter. It didn't matter at all. Whoever it was would tell him eventually, or not tell him, and that would be it.
He reached out, to stroke the glass body of a nearby dragon. It was still warm to the touch. His fingers twitched. He headed back to the closet, to pull out his guitar, and sat on the couch, and strummed a little. Nothing much, not a full song, hardly more than a couple of chords. But he felt his fingers relax.
On the table, the dragons moved.
When he woke in the morning, three of the dragons were sitting on him, their glass legs cool to the touch, their slim glass bodies warm. He picked one up and stared at it, holding it and its outstretched glass wings to the light. He thought – but he could be wrong – that he could almost hear it humming, in little brittle tones, as he stroked it.
Hell, he was just having nightmares, that's all. He had to get out of the apartment more, that was it. Call a few people and hang out with them.
He steadfastly ignored the phone.
He picked up his guitar and started to play. When the brushing sound came again, he ignored it, playing on. He was somehow not surprised to see more dragons on his bed that night. Six of them, their wings a brilliant sapphire and emerald.
New Year's Eve. He should do something, something to celebrate. Go somewhere. The city would have a fireworks show. He could watch that, or get drunk somewhere, or both. Get laid. That hadn't happened in far too long.
He should call her.
When he looked at the phone, seven small dragons had arranged themselves around it, their glass skins gleaming deepest red. He did not need to touch them to know that they would be warm.
New Year's. New start. Everything everybody was supposed to do in January. He should do something. Eat something. Take a walk. He looked outside. Too cold to head out and play in a park, but the sky was clear.
He stepped out of his apartment, and spent the morning in a long walk, looking at the barren trees against the clear sky, feeling the city hum around him. He came back to his apartment to find the dragons waiting on his table for him. He moved them back to his bookshelf.
He never opened the door that night. But eight new black glass dragons were on his table anyway, yawning and stretching. He decided to ignore that.
She had left him, that was the thing. And since then, everything had been fucking useless. Everything.
He needed to leave the apartment, find a job, play some music, dance around, talk to people, buy some food, drink real drinks, laugh out loud, watch some sports. Not play with the nine tiny dragons that had arrived last night, with warm glass bodies and cool glass claws, that had slid over his hands, making tiny glass cuts that had healed almost before he saw them.
He pulled out the guitar again. No need to damage his hands with dragons. He had other methods. As he played, he could almost hear new melodies pushing at him. Almost. He couldn't quite grab them.
That night, ten separate black boxes holding ten tiny glass dragons waited for him. This time, he imagined that they shimmered with different colors that changed as he moved them, placing some on the table, some on the bookshelf, and one in the bathroom. He looked around the apartment helplessly. He had no more space for dragons.
In the morning, the dragons had arranged themselves – or been arranged – around his bed. Perhaps he had gotten very, very drunk indeed. They were glass dragons, nothing more. They couldn't have moved anywhere. They certainly hadn't played and danced around his hands, and the only reason his fingers felt like playing today was because, well, he hadn't played, really played, for awhile. Nothing to do with dragons, nothing.
As he thought that, he heard a tinkling sound, almost like – but of course it wasn't – the sound that a glass dragon might make, if it could laugh.
He glowered at the dragons. "Don't think you're inspiring me, because you aren't."
The rest of the dragons had ranged themselves around his living room and kitchen, some intertwined, some defiantly alone.
He picked up his guitar and stared to play. And this time, he knew it was not his imagination when he started hearing the humming of glass as he strummed.
The floor was covered with dragons: 78 of them, had he cared to count. He didn't. They danced on the rich ripped wrapping paper; they breathed tiny flames on the boxes; they flew about the apartment, diving and soaring about his head.
His fingers itched to pick up a guitar, and they did.
"I need to work, little dragons," he said.
And for the first time in many many long days, he opened the windows, welcoming the cold and the air, watching and laughing as the dragons shrieked and then laughed, and then launched themselves through the window, flying to the beat of his fingers on the guitar.
This story originally appeared in Fantastique Unfettered.