This is the way the world ends.
~ ~ ~
I'm... dreaming... of a white... Christmas.... Just like the one I used to know...
Bing Crosby belting out the classics over a crackly, old, illegal radio. Nothing like it. I smile and hum along to my favorite seasonal tune and take a few steps toward a musty bookshelf. I look over a quaint scene set up on the top shelf: of barn animals, a shepherd, three wise-men, and a husband and wife; their gentle, porcelain faces gazing down at a baby boy lying in a blanketed trough. The angel on the stable roof emanates a dim light, one of the only lit in the bunker. My resolve is weak, and I allow a tear to descend my pale cheek. I am staring down into the widespread arms of the child when the song fades out to the broadcaster.
"Gooood morning, children! If you're awake, you know what a special day it is. And don't let those monsters tell you otherwise! Tonight is the night we celebrate the birth of a savior. Whether you believe the old tale or not, I don't much care. I just want you to know that we do have a savior. The moment you give up hope that the Dragonborn will come, they win. And I for one ain't about to let that happen. Here's a holiday classic to remind you what this night is all about... and to remind you to never give up hope. Merry Christmas kids! And God bless us, everyone!"
Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining....
I move to a ladder-way and after moments of climbing open up the hatch, emerging onto a rocky surface. I seat myself just outside the entrance and look out over the city, miles away-- smoking, charred, in ruins, beneath a blood-red cloudy sky. I watch black shapes dart around skyscrapers like giant bats; bright plumes of fire spew forth occasionally from their mouths. The police are cracking down hard on dissidents, it seems. While I watch the gloomy scene before me, I recall the day one year past, when everything first began.
It was just after five p.m. that the greatest Christmas movie of all time ended. I hit the off button on the remote, yawned, kicked off the couch blankets and picked up my to-do list. Die Hard-- check.
I had comprised a fairly rigid arrangement of things to accomplish Christmas Eve day, and watching John McLane light up terrorists and cuss up a blizzard thick enough to keep Santa grounded was somewhere in the middle of page two. With so much still left, I did not delay.
I flicked on the radio, just in time for my favorite. (Above all else it was vital to be surrounded by songs of the season.) I moved into the kitchen, where paint peeled off walls in places and cupboard doors clung as enthusiastically to hinges as valance electrons hung around pure Francium. Renovation was in the works, but this was Christmas, and turning my deprecated house into a palace-- a New Year's resolution. The dining table was fitted with a circular candle-piece encompassed by a bough of artificial holly. I lit the candles one by one, realizing delightedly I only had to wait one more day before I lit the big one in the center. Beneath the candle light, and humming to the radio, I began writing letters. The first was to my dad, whom I hadn't seen in ten years nor knew if he still lived. The second was to my mother, several states away, visiting relatives and in rehab. A half-hour later I signed them both: Your Son, Jacob.
Then it was time for a nice, relaxing, Christmas Eve walk around town. I laced on my red Chuck Taylors and donned my black pea-coat, smoothed my short blond hair out in front (still can't believe it used to be black) and stepped outside.
Stars glinted like holes poked into heaven in the sky above. Houses dressed in seasonal attire shone warmly, reflections of colorful lights painting the fresh, glossy snow. My breath collected in fog as I walked, yet beneath my orange-striped scarf I felt cozy. The tranquility of the evening brought to my contented mind a flood of pleasant memories. Mainly the occasion of Rachel and I decorating my own house with Christmas lights. What a day-- we could hardly work for five minutes without being interrupted by thrown snowballs or spontaneous laughter. I recalled her bright smile, and cheeks pink like her jacket and hat. I dwelt within that memory as I walked.
I soon arrived at an old bridge, and halfway across, I paused. Leaning over the railing, I looked out over a frozen ravine dozens of feet below. I hadn't been to this bridge in seven months, I realized. Not since I threw myself off.
An hour later I returned home, made a quick dinner, got in some Call of Duty, and before heading to bed at exactly midnight, bent before my Christmas tree and shook the two gifts beneath it. The first was from Rachel. It was square, and could be anything, but I guessed a new video game-- at least, she knew me enough to know I'd appreciate that. Then I took a moment to stand before my bookshelf beside the tree, where sat a display of a familiar scene.
I gently touched the porcelain baby raising his hands to the sky. Seven months ago I would have hated this image. It would've made me sick. But I hated everything back then. Mostly myself. This was, as I saw it, my first Christmas. I've lived through fifteen, sure. And it would've ended there too, if Rachel hadn't seen me and jumped off that bridge after me. Since then, my life has completely changed. I did not used to be a happy kid.
I bowed my head in silent prayer.
I wouldn't be here if not for love, God. Rachel wouldn't have saved me if not for love. Love would not exist if not for you. Thank you. And thank you for Christmas.
I went upstairs and crawled in bed, falling quickly asleep.
In my dream I was standing somewhere, bathed in white light.
"Dragonborn," said a deep voice. It was old and warm, like that of a kindly grandfather.
"Huh? Who are you?" I asked.
"Turn around child," the voice said. I obeyed.
Floating in the empty light, an elderly man hooded and cloaked in a black and grey robe looked down at me. His eyes were shadowed by the hood, and a long grey beard trailed down his chest. His hands were folded within the drapes of his sleeves.
He began to speak.
"Dragonborn, I am Eirngor. I have wished to make contact with you in this form before, but until now, that has not been possible. The Destroyer has taken the World Door. Even now he leads his armies through the gate, to descend upon the Land of Prophecy. The dawn of fire is breaking. With the barrier between dimensions now open, I am able to speak to you directly. You remember your other dreams, don't you?"
I did. Well I hadn't, until now, but they all came back. They were only faces though. A boy grimacing. An Asian girl with black hair to her shoulders stared forlornly into my mind's eye. There were many more, and they rushed back to my memory with such intensity it hurt, and I fell on one knee, slapping a hand to my forehead.
"These are the others. If there is to be any hope for your world you must find them. Your most powerful weapon awaits you, which I have managed to procure for each of your brethren. Raise him in wisdom and stature, and in the ways you have learned. Evil has tried preventing you from reaching your destiny since you were born, yet you prevailed. I go now, Dragonborn. May the Light guide you."
The light turned to darkness, and I woke up.
I was upright in bed, eyes wide, sweat trickling on my brow.
Whoa. Weird dream.
7:37 a.m., Christmas morning. A wide smile creased my lips, and I flung off the sheets and bolted downstairs. Immediately I threw myself at the base of the tree, probably more happier than most six year-old's. My first real Christmas! I realized I wanted to take my time with the presents, and make the most of the moment. When I eventually reached for the one from my mother, I stopped.
There was another present.
I raised a curious eyebrow. How on earth...?
It was slightly smaller than my head, egg shaped, and wrapped in a golden foil. It was dense and heavy in my hands. There was no tag, leaving me to believe someone broke into my house or Santa was real. It had not been there before. Something happened that caused my heart to skip a beat or several, and with a start I dropped the gift and leaped backward.
It had begun to shake. It began as a faint quiver, growing to a violent rattle. Then it began to glow! The gold wrapping began to melt like shrinking tin-foil, and suddenly a sharp crack split the air and a ray of golden light burst from the seam. The entire egg itself seemed to disappear in the blinding light as cracks appeared everywhere. Then it exploded.
I shielded my face as shrapnel flew everywhere. There was no question now that the object had been a real egg. I lowered my arms, and heart-pounding, I froze.
Where the egg used to be, a small reptile was squirming on its back. Tiny, slimy, gold and green scales covered its body from pointed snout to the tip of an eight inch long tail. A groggy snarl came from its throat and the lizard found a way onto its feet. I felt like passing out when it began experimenting muscles, and unfurled a pair of transparent, tissue-thin wings. No. Frickin. Way.
A dragon was under my Christmas Tree.
My hand was in my pocket. Cell-phone-- upstairs. I tore the cord-less from the living-room wall and dialed. It seemed like ages before I heard the adult female voice at the other end.
"Mrs. Scott?" I asked quickly.
"Oh, its you Jacob! Merry Christmas! What's--"
"Is Rachel there?"
"Well yes, we were just about to open presents. I told you you were welcome--"
I cut her off again. "Can I talk to her? Please?"
I imagined her surprise. "Well, of course, I suppose..." Muffled sounds. The dragon was fortunately staying put. Then a crackling as the receiver was picked up, and the most pleasant, cheerful voice in the world entered my ear.
"Jacob? What in the world are you up to, silly?"
"You need to get over here."
"You need to see this. You're not-- you're not going to... I wouldn't have called you if it wasn't a matter of life and death."
Thank God, she understood. "I'm on my way."
She lived just down the street. The dragon made eye-contact with me and stumbled forward, testing out its feet. A minute later footsteps pounded up to the door. Before she could knock, I opened it and stepped outside.
Before me stood Rachel Scott, who hadn't bothered with a coat; just ran out in a pink sweatshirt over her pajamas and a matching hat over her long blond hair. Her feet were snug in Ug boots. Even this early, she was beautiful. My best friend's grey eyes expressed concern, and she looked at me curiously, as I held up a hand in front of her.
"Whatever you do, do not freak out."
I led her inside. She almost freaked out.
"JACOB! What in the...!"
"The worst part is, I think I can explain."
She listened intently, completely blown-away as I told her about my dream. The dragon curiously prodded anything it encountered with its snout, and during my explanation we followed it like security detail.
"So... you've been having dreams about people for a long time now... but you didn't remember until this 'Eirngor' reminded you last night?"
I nodded. "Basically."
Rachel shook her head in disbelief. "Jacob... wow. Wow."
The dragon sniffed the wrapping of my present from Rachel.
"'Raise him in wisdom and stature..." Rachel quoted. "Obviously 'him' is him."
I looked blankly at the creature trying to set fire to the gift. "I feel like a father."
"And all this 'World Door', 'Destroyer', 'dawn of fire'-- sounds like something from an over-done fantasy movie plot!" Rachel mused.
"In which I'm the star, I guess. 'Dragonborn'."
"So what are you going to do?" She rescued the present from the dragon and handed it to me, her cloud-grey eyes boring into mine.
"I don't know."
Suddenly a crash from outside sent a tremor through the house. The dragon fell on its face with a little squeal, and I instinctively reached out to steady Rachel.
We bolted for the door, momentarily forgetting the dragon.
Outside neighbors filed out of houses, looking for the explanation to the curiosity. Rachel and I scanned the street, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Then the sky went dark for less than a second as a shadow passed over the street.
Heads turned upward. My heart beat began accelerating. I have a bad feeling about this.
The Jurassic Park T-Rex couldn't compare to the roar. A collective gasp of terror filled the town. They were oblivious, but to me, everything became clear. I looked at Rachel, and she met my gaze. Realization dawned in her beautiful eyes.
Shadows filled the sky, and one by one, massive beasts careened into the ground with earth-shattering force. The town went nuts. People scrambled into streets where they were crushed beneath giant clawed feet. Others fled back into homes; many of which were suddenly burning. Dragons flew low over roofs, spewing fire. Others crashed on top of houses and perched there, snatching up citizens in their jaws.
I yelled something and took hold of Rachel's shoulders, forcing her back inside.
"WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO??" she screamed over the chaos outside.
I grabbed the baby-dragon like a plush toy, and paused only a millisecond. "I don't know." Then I ripped open the door and took her hand in a vice-like grip. "COME ON!!"
Infant lizard in hand, I led Rachel sprinting across the lawn to the garage. I felt the heat from my next-door neighbors' house in flames. Suddenly a particularly massive jet-black dragon landed on a roof a block away, and spoke-- in a voice like an erupting volcano named James Earl Jones. The language was foreign, but somehow the words unraveled in my head plain as English.
"THE LOST ONE IS NEAR! FIND HIM!! "
Nearly breaking down the garage door and screaming frantic and incoherent orders at Rachel, I threw the dragon into the back while Rachel scrambled into the passenger seat of the station-wagon. And the next garage door, I did break down. The old car burst through the cheap plastic like tissue-paper. I hoped and prayed the dragons would go for the prettier cars and that my knowledge of the streets could outwit even their ability of flight. Just then I saw a Porsche flying through the sky a hundred feet above us.
In the whole suburb there were easily a hundred dragons which made me fearful of the road being totally blocked. Driving out of this sudden attack, however, appeared to be working. I lost track of how many turns I skidded and stop signs I ran.
"Jacob BEHIND US!!" Rachel screamed. I flashed my gaze to the rear-view.
The huge dragon that shouted earlier was hot on our trail, strung up like a Christmas tree in a tangle of lights, and at its current rate would probably catch us in a matter of seconds.
"TAKE THE WHEEL!" I shouted at Rachel. Though terrified, Rachel, God bless her, was not one to lose control in a time of need. She kept on course while I reached into the back seat; the baby dragon was lolling to and fro after having been the ball in a game of pong with the windows. I turned back and pumped a Mossberg 500 12 gauge.
"What the...?" shouted Rachel.
"This is Uncle Stewie's car," was all I said. I leaned out the window.
Only yards away the dragon roared, a column of flame forming in its throat. I didn't miss the opportunity. BANG! chck-chck BANG! chck-chck BANG!
The surprise dental work sent the dragon coughing and sputtering to the ground. I couldn't help laughing maniacally. "I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST DID THAT!"
"Congratulations Van-Damme, now either keep driving or switch with me!"
We switched. And the shotgun remained idle as we made it out of the city.
We didn't look back until, four miles into the countryside, at the top of a hill, we finally pulled over. The air was heavy inside the car, and Rachel's knuckles were white and quivering from grasping the steering wheel. The baby dragon was unconscious. I exchanged a forlorn look with my friend, and we stepped outside.
Smoke had turned the distant sky black. Monsters swarmed above, hurling fire to the ground. The "dawn of fire" had broken.
I turned to Rachel. Tears were streaming from her eyes. I took her in my arms.
"My parents-- Jacob-- I--" she could hardly speak.
"It's going to be okay. Trust me."
She clung tighter to the folds of my shirt. "I know. But what are we going to do?"
I guided her to the backseat window, and we looked in at the sleeping baby dragon.
"Find the other Dragonborn. And probably save the world."
I've been staring at the city for maybe twenty minutes when I hear footsteps on the ladder, and the hatch opens. A blond-haired girl in a pink sweatshirt climbs out. She sits beside me and rests her head on my shoulder.
"Still think we can save the world?" Rachel says with a gentle sigh.
I put my arm around her shoulder. "Yeah."
A gust of warm air brushes my neck, and I reach up to stroke the head of a giant, gold and green dragon perched on the rocks behind us.
"Yeah I do."