“Hey, watch out!” a tiny voice screamed at Meghan as she fell out of darkness and into the back of a loaded hay wagon. After she regained her breath, she felt movement under her back and then a sharp pain.
“Ouch!” She rolled over, the hay stubble sticking to her jacket. A small creature crawled out of the indention Meghan had made in her landing. “Did you really bite me?”
“You’re the one who crushed me with your hugeness!” the tiny creature replied, a wide smile showing his tiny pointed teeth. “I didn’t bite you. I just nipped you a bit. Got you off me, I did.” Its large ears stood up on an otherwise human head like a Chihuahua and its large dark eyes twinkled with mischief. Dressed in overalls and a blue checker shirt, he couldn’t have been taller than up to Meghan’s waist.
“What are you?” Meghan wondered aloud. Maybe that’s not polite. “I mean, I’m not from these parts, and I’ve never met anyone like you before. My name is Meghan. I’m sorry for landing on you. I had no idea the portal would dump me into a wagon.”
“Apology accepted,” the creature said. “Since you have named yourself, I must also. You may call me Malarkey. Obviously you are a human tourist, as you don’t know that I am a Hob.”
“Hobs are extremely useful persons to have on a farm, which is where you landed, by the way. Mr. Greenleaf’s farm, to be exact,” Malarkey continued, as he brushed the straw from his shirt and reshaped his crushed straw hat. “I guide the cows to the best grazing and lead them back home in the evening. In between all that, I try to grab a few winks in the hay wagon. Didn’t expect to be crushed by an incoming visitor.” After placing on his wide brimmed hat, he jumped down from the wagon.
Meghan also jumped down, straw falling around her in piles. “It’s nice to meet you, Malarkey.” She looked around at the rolling fields of wheat that spread out around her on every side. In the distance she could see a grove of trees, perhaps shielding a farm house and barn.
Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t seen Noodles since the portal. She was no longer holding his leash.
“I’m missing my dog!” she cried. “Noodles! Noodles! Where are you?”
The field in front of her rustled and waved, and a small black and white dog shot out of the wheat and into her arms. Meghan squeezed her dog close. The clasp for the leash was still attached to his collar, but the length of the leash was missing, roughly chopped off at the clasp.
“Where have you been?” Meghan wondered. But Noodles looked no worse for his travel, jumping down from her arms to bark at the Nob.
“Be still, beast!” Malarkey commanded, and Noodles lay down immediately with his head down.
“How did you do that?” Meghan asked. “Noodles barely listens to me, and I’ve worked with him since he was a puppy.”
“I’ve a way with beasts,” the Nod answered.
The bright sunshine suddenly dimmed and a growing roar approached them. If Meghan had been back in her world, she would have seen a squadron of fighter planes in tight formation circling toward them. But she was in Faerie, and instead of airplanes, it was a group of dragons coming in for a landing.
The dragons flew in staggered formation, their long arrowhead tails close to the snout behind them. Their golden bellies faced the ground, shimmering in the sun. She saw at least twenty of them, their huge segmented wings pulled up to slow their descent. The head dragon roared commands which were repeated down the line, creating an endless stream of sound.
The leader hit the ground running on all four of its legs, slowing to a stop right in front of Meghan and the Nod. The rest of the pack landed behind it in the field, creating a trampled down hole.
“Won’t Mr. Greenleaf get angry about his field?” Meghan asked the Nod.
“No doubt,” Malarkey agreed. “But there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s a dragon rider club. They’re too dangerous to mess with.”
“Dragon riders?” Meghan asked, but then she saw the tiny saddles set in between the spiked ridges on top of the giant creatures. A rope hung down the side, and riders slid down to the ground beside their mounts. Each rider said something in an unknown language, and the huge dragons slid to the ground and lay still.
“Let’s get out of here,” Malarkey said, pulling on the girl’s leg. “It’s never good to have dealings with dragon riders.”
The leader approached them, a slender man wearing a black leather jacket, leather pants, and boots. He took off his leather gloves, and removed his leather helmet. With his pointed ears and bright green eyes, Meghan realized she was meeting her first faery since her arrival.
“Good morning to you, miss,” the faery said with a quick nod. “Visiting on a day pass?”
“Yes, I am,” Meghan said. “Good morning to you also. I’m here on an adventure.”
“Well, no better place than Spring for adventures,” he said, motioning for his companions to join them. “The DOGS welcome you to Faerie.”
“Dogs?” Meghan asked. “You have dogs, too?”
The faeries behind the leader rumbled with laughter. “No, miss. We’re the DOGS- Dragon Owners Group. We’re a dragon club. See?” He turned around to show Meghan the green and gold embroidery on the back of his leather jacket. It showed a dragon twisted around in a circle with a knife in his mouth and a very human-looking skull clutched in its front claws.
“I see,” Meghan said. That was embarrassing. The faeries surrounded her, watching her curiously. They look like they’ve seen as many humans as I have seen faeries. Malarkey folded his arms and stood as tall as he could. Meghan thought about movies she had seen about faeries. Unlike the movie faeries, these beings were at least six feet tall, and no visible wings. Despite the leader’s polite words, their presence exuded menace. She had the uncomfortable feeling of being in a dark alley with a street gang.
“We were headed down to the house for tea,” Malarkey said firmly. He reached for Meghan’s hand and started leading her to the dirt road between fields. “Good bye, riders.”
The leader took Meghan’s other hand, and stopped them. He frowned at Meghan’s new acquaintance. “Now wait a moment, Nob. I can see that the young lady wants to ride a dragon. Don’t you, miss?”
Meghan looked into those green eyes, and felt like they pierced the secret longings of her heart. How exciting would it be to ride a dragon! “But sir, I don’t know you. Would it be safe?”
The riders roared with laughter. “Of course not!” the leader said, as he started walking her over to the dragons. “But it’s exciting! The wind rushing through your hair, the land below you a patchwork quilt of colors!”
“I’ve been on airplanes before,” she said, but she allowed the dragon rider to lead her over to his creature, who turned his long neck to watch her, steam curling out of its nostrils. With its tail wrapped around it like a cat it looked larger than any of the elephants she had seen at the zoo. It’s like one of those dinosaur skeletons, with skin on, come back to life. Noodles, realizing he was in the presence of larger dogs than he could ever imagine, followed his master in submissive silence, but with wild eyes. The dragon paid no more attention to the dog than to a bug crawling on the grass.
“It’s amazing,” she said, wanting to reach out and touch its shiny green scales, but its bright red eyes made her pause.
“You can touch her,” the faery said. “She’s tame enough, especially with me by your side.” He took her hand and placed it on the side of the creature’s neck. It felt cool and slick, like a lizard. Noodle stood at her feet whimpering softly.
“You’re okay, Noodles,” Meghan said, picking up her dog. “Look, it won’t hurt you.”
The other riders came up to their leader. “Should we go, Hardly? We need to get to the forest before nightfall.”
Hardly nodded to his group, and they sprang into action. They replaced their helmets, buttoned up their jackets, put on their gloves, and climbed back up onto their dragons. The leader took another leather helmet out of his saddle bag and offered it to Meghan.
“Come with us,” he said. “My name is Hardly, and I’ll make sure you have a great adventure.”
Meghan looked back at Malarkey, who was shaking his head vigorously. How can I turn down a dragon ride?
“My name is Meghan. I’ll come with you.” She took the helmet from the faery as Noodles licked her chin. “What about Noodles? Can he ride, too?”
The faery laid his hand on Noodles’ trembling head, and the dog was still. He pulled out a leather harness from his bag and slipped it over Meghan’s head. After fastening it securely around the dog, he smiled at the girl. “He should be fine. Let’s go.”
Meghan slipped on the helmet, pushing her bangs out of the way. She fastened the leather buckle under her chin. Hardly climbed up on the dragon and secured an extra saddle behind his saddle. Then he called down to her.
“Climb up the rope and sit behind me.”
With an apologetic look back at Malarkey, Meghan took hold of the rope and found herself seated on a dragon, taking off into the blue sky of Faerie.