In the Clouds
by Aliya Whiteley
the silversmith knew that, sometimes, things fell out of the sky.
Something always fell out of the sky when he was in his back garden. Weather quite often fell out of the sky: snow and hail and rain. And creatures that could fly sometimes forgot how to, so they would tumble down and land beside him. He would give them tasty things to eat—worms if they were seagulls, seeds if they were robins—until they remembered how to fly. Then they would give him a bob of their heads and be gone, up into the sky once more, back where they belonged.
It must be good to have a place where you belonged, Paul thought.
He was weeding his back garden so his strawberry plants would have no problem in pushing out their soft leaves when the slightly chilly spring turned to summer. Nobody else in his terraced street weeded their gardens. They threw rubbish in them or argued in them in loud voices. Paul wanted to belong, but he didn't want to change to belong. His neighbours saw nothing good in waiting: waiting for strawberries to grow, or for silver to change into a shape under your patient hands, or for creatures to remember how to fly.
He cleared the last hairy dandelion from his strawberry patch and, at that moment, felt the first drops of rain on the back of his neck. He straightened up and lifted his face to enjoy the way the rain kissed his cheeks and eyelids, when, surprisingly, something other than rain, something tiny and hard, struck him on the centre of his forehead and fell to the cement path, bouncing five times in quick succession to come to a stop between his feet.
The sudden shower of rain dried as quickly as it had arrived, and the clouds cleared to throw a perfect patch of light on the object. It glinted.
Paul squatted and looked at it. It was, he decided immediately, made of silver. He knew silver, and he knew from one glance that this was a piece of fine workmanship: it had been sculpted and shaped into perfection.
He scooped it up into his hands and brought it up to his face. Strangely, the patch of light moved with it, and he had to squint to see past the glare. But once he did he was amazed and delighted in equal measure.
A dragon lay in his hands. It was lying, stretched out, its snout lifted, its eyes screwed shut and its four legs splayed wide as if it was a cat sitting in its favourite warm spot. Every jag on its spine was a testament to skill; every scale overlapped neatly with the one before, and every claw was a pinprick on his hands. It was so beautiful that it could have been alive.
So Paul was not that surprised when it breathed, gave out a sigh that he felt rather than heard, and curled into a ball, its serpentine tail looping around its snout to scratch the back of its neck.
Paul stood in the garden for a long time. He wasn't sure what he should do. He was worried that the dragon would get a shock if he talked to it, or moved too quickly, but he was terrified that it would uncurl its tiny folded wings and fly away without a second glance if he did nothing. He could have gazed on it forever, but the sun was going down, and even the light on the dragon was fading. The sensitive skin of his palms picked up its shivers. It opened its eyelids to reveal bright orange eyes, rolled them around, and flicked out its tiny forked tongue. Paul thought he heard a sound come from between its teeth: a high-pitched, barely audible mew.
It seemed to Paul that the dragon needed help. Maybe it was like the seagulls and the robins—it had to rest before it could fly again. And, although he didn't know if he was doing the right thing, he decided it would be better to try to help than not try at all, and so he carried the dragon into his house, through his kitchen, past his lounge, and into his disordered workshop, that was strewn with clutter and home to the charred, beaten workbench that had once belonged to his father and now belonged to him.
He placed the dragon on his fire brick, sat in his chair, turned on the overhead lamp, put on his goggles, and reached for his blowtorch.
One press of the igniter switch and out leapt a yellow flame that he tuned to a fierce blue. He didn't know what he was going to do with it. The dragon needed warmth, he was sure, but how to provide it? Could he simply…
Quick as a finger-snap, the decision was made for him. The dragon jumped up from the heat brick and into the heart of the flame. Its wings unfurled and flapped so fast that he could only see silver blurs, and a sound that reminded Paul of a ringing bell sprang out of the constant movement.
The dragon bathed in the flame. It stretched, it somersaulted, it performed flips and turns, and it smiled, baring its curved silver fangs as it did so.
Paul stayed there through the night, keeping the blowtorch steady even when his arm got pins and needles and his eyes could barely stay open and his hand went numb. Still the dragon bathed. Eventually, in desperation, to keep himself awake, Paul began to talk. He talked about how he had learned his trade from his father, and how lonely he had been since his father died ten years ago. He described his house and his garden, and his hope to be the best craftsman he could be, not for money or fame, but for the peace of mind of achieving what he had worked for.
He recalled the first time his strawberry plants had given him fruit and the last time he had seen his father smile. In short, he talked his life out to the dragon, and it seemed to him that the dragon listened.
When there was no more to say, Paul looked up and saw sunlight through the workshop window.
He had talked all night.
At that moment the dragon slowed the beating of its wings and drifted out of the blue flame to land on the heat brick. Paul switched off the blowtorch and laid it on the bench. Then he leaned back in his seat and stretched out his aching muscles. When he looked at the dragon once more, the dragon was staring back at him.
The yellow eyes were not yellow at all. They were iridescent, like oil on water, filled with swirls and patterns that coalesced and dissipated in rolling movements. In those eyes Paul could see many things. He could see clouds traversing the sky, but somehow he was in those clouds, not flying so much as gliding without effort, and he belonged there, flying around the Earth, following the path of the sun which blessed him with its beams and kept him warm.
Paul reached out a hand and the dragon flew up to it, landing on the knuckle of his index finger.
It observed him, its head cocked to one side, and wrapped its tail around his fingernail. A squeeze of the tail and a wink of one yellow eye told Paul what he needed to know.
The dragon was ready to leave.
He stood up, switched off the overhead light, walked out of the workshop, past the lounge and through the kitchen. He strode into the chilly brightness of the early morning, brushing past the flowers and feeling the bottom of his trousers grow wet with dew, until he stood in exactly the same spot as yesterday.
"Goodbye," he said, and lifted his hand to the sun.
The silver dragon sprang away, flying upwards into the direct shaft of sunlight that had come down to greet it. With it went Paul's loneliness. He had found his friend.
Back in his workshop, sitting at his bench, he started work on his new sculpture. It would take time, he knew: the fruit of the strawberry plants would come and go before he was finished. And it was going to be a dragon.
A dragon, to sit on his workbench and remind him of the living, breathing, silver dragon who carries his secrets through the clouds, and takes his thoughts up to where they belong.
Story Copyright © 2007 by Aliya Whiteley. All rights reserved.
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About the author
Aliya Whiteley didn't go to university in Cambridgeshire (she did that in Aberystwyth), but she does live there. She is left-handed with brown hair and in her spare time is a criminal mastermind. Some of you may know her better as the Blue Pootle. Light Reading, her second novel with Macmillan New Writing, is due out in February 2008.
Her site is http://www.aliyawhiteley.com.