Chapter one: Black Scales
He was already late. Max James ran down the suburban street, silently praying that he wouldn’t be late for his curfew for the third night in a row, and cursing his friends for stealing his clothes and leaving him with nothing but his board shorts. He was running down the street, dripping wet with something black in his normally brown hair, like ink. He didn’t know where it came from, but it didn’t feel good. He wanted to take a shower the moment he got home… assuming his parents don’t want to chew him out first.
School had only been out for a few hours. Max and his friends intended to make the most of it, Summer had set in. Tomorrow, Kimball had decided a Halo tournament was in order. Friday, Lewis decided that they should head to the paintball arena and shoot at each other for real. Max was already looking forward to it.
There was a buzzing in his pocket as he stopped to catch his breath. He pulled out his phone to find his mum calling. He answered.
“Hey mum.” Max said, obvious that he was out of breath.
“Don’t hey mum me young man.” His mother scolded. “Do you have any idea what time it is? You better be walking though that door this minute.”
“Mum. Can you chill, or at least wait until I get home before the yelling begins.” Max said. “I’m cutting across the park on Fleet Street…”
“Chill? You want me to…” Max didn’t hear the last of it. He heard a branch snap from behind him. He turned just in time to see something move in the bushes, taking his phone away from his ear.
“Hello?” He called out to who ever was in the bushes. “Who’s there!?”
A black cat ran out of the bushes, meowing as it did. Max laughed to himself, before remembering that his mother was still yelling at him. He was about to put his phone back to his ear again when… his hand began to burn, causing him to drop the phone. Instinctively, he clutched his hand to his chest as the burning sensation continued to intensify. He fell to his knees, trying not to howl in pain, gritting his teeth. He risked looking at the inflamed limb, pulling it away from his chest.
Max was speechless.
His skin was turning an inky black. And on the back of his hand was a charcoal black scale.
The pain began to spread up his arm… it was too much to endure.
The whole neighbourhood heard his pained scream.
Madeline O’Conner let out a chocked scream as she woke from a nightmare, the sound of a passing zeppelin engines filling her ears along with her rapid breaths for air. She could remember the fire and death vividly. Solders in battle with large, dangerous looking weapons against scaly creatures of myth. Dragons. She didn’t want to think about it, but it was a welcome thought compared to the worried dilemmas she been having for the past two months. Yet the unease that swirled and bubbled in her heart would not let her return to her sleep. And her parents wouldn’t wake for another few hours. She walked over to the window, the giant gas filled steel balloon continued it’s way across the night sky, over Crescent City. No one was awake to hear her concerns… no one she knew at least. She looked at the computer and asked herself if it was right for her to express her unease to a stranger, quite possibly half the world away?
She sat down and open the laptop. The photo of Max James appeared above the box asking for his password. Two months since she saw him in person. Two months since he went to the lake with Lewis, Ethan, Kimball and Carlos while she went to the Mall with Summer and Angel. Two months since he disappeared. Nothing but torn clothes and blood. Too much blood to have come from one person to remain hopeful that he's still alive. DNA tests confirmed that it was all his blood. His family didn't take it well. Neither did his friends when the police shelved the investigation.
They all heard him scream, but no one saw an attacker. No one even saw the teenager.
The screen went dark, banishing the photo from the screen. Not wanting to be alone with her thoughts, she tapped the keyboard, bringing up the screen.
She let a tear fall from her eye. No one took it harder the Maddie. No one else searched longer. No one else prayed more. No one else cried harder. She should have told him she loved him that day.
She curled up in the office chair sobbing. “I should have…”
“…said no.” Blake muttered as he waited. He checked his watch again, the centuries old teenager let out another yawn. If Seoul had taught him anything, it was that Ambrose Jeffries, Governor of California was always fashionably late for everything, and she was a devious bitch who wore way too much makeup for anything. The jet lag from stepping from Sydney late at night into Sacramento in the early morning was too much, even for him. He should have said no, but Ambrose played on his sympathies and said it concerned a family who had lost their son. Someone close to Ambrose if she even considered getting him involved. “Or powerful.”
He looked up at the statue of Queen Isabella and Columbus, the original destroyed during the Independence Riots, when a group of Californian Separatists caused millions of dollars of damage to the State Capitol in 1987. He also recalled some heavy damage to the state of Minerva in the Senate fell to the ground. It was that incident that caused variations like that that confused Blake with trivia like that. Some realities, Minerva only over looked one chamber or the other, while a few still have both statues of the roman goddess of wisdom.
“Blake.” He heard a voice call out. He turned to see the seventy year old Ambrose Jeffries, followed by a latino man wearing an expensive suit. Blake assumed it was her aide.
“So what was so important that the bloody queen of Cali had to call me from crocodile weaselling?” Blake demanded, causing Ambrose to laugh out loud, then stop. “Okay. Not a crocodile, more of a dinosaur.”
“Please tell me your not serious.”
“Ambrose. We’re both busy people. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
She nodded. He aide handed Blake a file. Blake opened it and quickly read the file. “Missing teenager. They go missing all the time. Just look at me. I’m always doing it.”
“You’re a hundred and twenty eight.”
“Two hundred and sixty one.”
“It’s a long way from teenager.”
“I’m still being pounded by hormones here. It’s a rollacoster ride. Hmm.”
“What?” Ambrose asked noticing that Blake’s interest has been peaked.
“Clothes ripped to shreds, blood spatter originating from one source. Friends say he was swimming in a lake before he disappeared.” He sniffed the paper. “And who ever read this file last has a case of diabetes. Look into that. In the meantime, I’ve got to go to that park. It was lovely to see you Ambrose.” Blake gave the woman a hug before walking off with the file.
“Miss Jeffries. Who is that boy?” Her aide asked.
“The boy the devil is very afraid of.” Ambrose whispered back. “He’ll find your nephew’s body. Knowing him, still alive… and he just stole my car keys.”
Blake had to admit one thing, Ambrose had good taste in cars. He wasn’t sure about Chinese sports cars in this universe, but this one handled well though the drive from Sacramento to Crescent City, great speakers, Claw’s latest album was a treat. He even had his night vision sunglasses on just to complete the look. There was also good mileage on the highway, only needed to stop for hydrogen once, and the tank was only quarter full, which brought him to the Hydrogen Economy in general.
Arriving in Crescent City, Blake was reminded immediately of some of the cities on the North Coast of New South Wales that escaped the sudden population boom. He didn’t dally to look around, he just continued driving towards the park on Fleet Street. The sat-nav provided the directions, right to the parking lot by the children’s playground. The crime scene photos gave him a decent idea of the original scene looked like. He found a laminated poster of the boy in question.
Blake took a long look at it, then at the spot where remnants of the blood remained.
The last moments of Max James’ human life…
Scratches on the concrete. The directional blood drops… all lead him to one conclusion… he ran from the scene scared out of his mind. And why not. No idea what happened to himself, all alone…
He closed his eyes, pushing himself backwards in history…
That night two months prior, Blake felt himself pushing into existence. He could hear the pained howl, and see the outline of the boy begin to take on a new shape. He tired focusing, attempting to get a clearer view but it was still dark.
He could see the teenager double over in pain as claws sprouted from his fingers, muscles bulk up and a tail snake it’s way out of the remains of his clothes. He could see his feet take on a new shape, toes becoming large and thick while the foot itself became slender and heel would be caught in the air. His face pushed forward into a muzzle, hair fell out in clumps, horns grow in, and the tongue spit at the tip. All of a sudden, when the wings grew out of his back, everything became clear as the former human lied sprawled out on the concrete path. A black dragon with a sixteen foot wingspan, and about nine feet tall standing upright. He began to wonder if the boy didn’t survive the actuarial transformation… but an audible and annoyed growl assured Blake that he was still alive. The sound of sirens caught his ears as the dragon pushed himself upright. By the looks of it, the dragon was torn between staying and running and was becoming more panicked as the sound came closer. The was a sound… one Blake had heard all too well, the sound of a shotgun cocking. The dragon heard it too and ran as far as his twitching limbs could take him. Blake made an attempt to follow, but something made him stay…
A man in a brown sheriff’s uniform… Holding a handgun… with a silencer attached to the end of the barrel…
He couldn’t see the man’s features clearly enough, but he heard him talk into his radio.
“I lost him…”
“Sanitise the scene. I’ve just pulled up.”
Blake though he had seen enough as the scene faded. He went back to the file he was given. Responding officers: Carol Wayne and Paul Jennings. He was going to have a talk with them…
There was a rumble from above. Before the rain hits.
The black dragon waited. Four teenagers with their cross country bikes had a corse though the redwoods. It was almost lunch time. In his claws was a modified skateboard. His favourite. The only skateboard he had too. All he had was a backpack, a several notebooks, a planner, some pens, a photo and that skateboard. All of them, remains of he human he once was, something he tried gripping on to with dear life, because it’s what remains of his life. Not this scaly monster. Not the animal he’s become.
A tear dipped from his golden, slit pupil eye. He wished it was a dream. He wished he could just wake up in his bed, his mom scolding him for sleeping in, his dad telling him that if he didn’t apply himself, he wouldn’t achieve anything, his sister yelling at him for using all the hot water. If he were to show up to that suburban house in Crescent City now… how long would it take for their faces to suddenly turn into fear, looking at the beast that standing on their garden path. Would they listen to his claims?
He remembered his friends, Lewis, Summer, Ethan, Angel, Kimball, Carlos… and Maddie. They had some good times since forming that friendship in Kindergarden. He missed the Halo tournament, and Kimbull sniping him five times before he found his perch. He never got to play laser tag with Ethan gloating because he had the highest score. And Maddie…
There was a bright flash… rain began to pour.
The dragon whimpered, now no longer in the mood to tear up the corse with his board, he began to walk back to his cave. When he got there, he walked past the note books, dropped the skateboard on top of his bag and fell flat on the ground, before passing out completely…