Ceaseless barking echoed through the woods. It came in short yips, as frequent as my own gasps. I rushed forward in a desperate search for a place to hide. Mother told me to never let anyone see me. What was I doing out in the open anyway?
“Ginger! Stop!” the voice of a young boy followed the dog.
What if the human saw me, too?
I rushed through the orange and brown leaves covering the forest floor. The smell of mold and dirt filled my flaring nostrils. The skeletal branches of tree limbs exposed me to the grey light of the overcast sky. The wet leaves clung to my iridescent green scales. I hoped it provided camouflage.
Nothing could hide from that dog. Mother told me that dogs were our worst enemy, especially the smaller ones. This one looked huge to me, but it shrank in comparison to the human. I needed to make it to the tunnel.
The barking and the voice drew closer. How did I get so slow? I leapt over the small stream, letting my almost useless wings flutter for a moment to hold me in the air before lighting on the other side. My rear leg slipped on a wet, round stone. It wrenched a little and I did my best to ignore the pain. I needed to keep running.
Almost there. I wished I never let the dog sneak up on me and gain a scent to follow. The rocky crevice came into view. A crack between the moss covered stones welcomed me and I jumped forward faster, gasping. How far had it been to the neighborhood? Mother told me never to go there. Why did I let the smoky smell of cooking fish entice me?
“Wait! Bad Dog!” Behind me splashes announced the child and dog sloshing through the stream. They were gaining on me, and would see me soon if I didn’t make it to the tunnel entrance in time. I surged forward, using my front claws to pull myself into the tight opening. Slithering in, I stopped to catch my breath in the darkness once the space grew wide enough to turn around.
I desperately tried to calm my breathing and heart rate. Light from the crack cut through and pierced the dirt floor in front of me. I withdrew to the shadows. The barking muffled, but sounded closer than ever. Soon I saw a wet, black nose and the dog’s golden mane as it peeked into the crack. It barked once more, echoing off the walls of the cave, making me shudder. Snuffling noises ensued as the dog stopped barking. It tried to push itself in through the crack, but it didn’t fit. I thanked grace.
“Ginger! There you are! Stop chasing that squirrel and come on.” The boy’s voice called from just outside the cave.
I held my breath, so the boy wouldn’t hear my panting. My leg throbbed from the pain as the adrenaline of the run dissipated. My lungs burned as I waited with bated breath.
With the yipe, the dog’s nose was ripped away, replaced by a brown eye and fleshy human cheek. "Wonder what had you so worked up anyway?”
I couldn’t hold my breath any longer. I let it out slowly, hoping it wouldn’t make a sound. To my amazement, smoke oozed from my nostrils and rose toward the opening of the cave. I stopped myself from gasping and took a slow inward breath, desperate to make as little noise as possible. I’d never breathed smoke or fire before, and my body chose now to start?
“What on earth?” The boy said in wonder as the smoke rose through the crack. He had breathed it in, and coughed.
He waved his arm in front of him, clearing the air, and peeked into the cave once more. I backed further into the shadows.
“Weird.” The boy said and pulled his face away.
I took another slow breath, and more smoke appeared. I’d have to ask my mom how to control that.
“Come on Ginger!” The boy’s voice faded.
Curious, I crept forward and peered through the crack into the grey lit woods. Dragging his feet through the crunching wet leaves, the boy tugged on a black leash and forced the dog to tag along. The dog strained against the leash and jumped on its rear legs trying to keep from falling over. Soon it gave up and followed, but continued looking back until they were out of sight.
With a deep sigh I tried to breathe smoke again, but nothing came. Disappointed, I shrugged my shoulder and headed into the tunnel. I limped the rest of the way home, wishing I had not chosen today to venture out. I shook my head, but ceaseless barking continued to echo through my mind.