This is the fifth installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’m posting a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th. See the previous four here.


Her next detour took place as she was tired and chilled. She stumbled, and, half-willingly, glanced to the side (the candlelight had grown low). This time she came back to awareness screaming.

She was the dragon now. Her teeth weighed so much that her head whipped like a cannonball when she thrashed it. Her claws sank into everything they touched. Fire was burning in her, boiling out of her. The ground was ash, the sky in tatters, the whole world shriveling and rolling up to reveal darkness, as grimy black as her scales. It fell on her in cataracts of ash. She belched fire to harden it and blacken it more.

The light, when it came, was pain. It bounced off her scales, but her eyelids were too thin to protect her. She snapped at it and tried to tear it apart or heap it with ash, but her teeth closed on nothing. Then she would run. But when she escaped and buried herself deeply enough, the need would start up again and she would come raging out, frantic for any kind of light, the least touch.

The light’s warrior sang merrily as he strode toward her, crunching cinders with his boots. He was strong and young as always. She didn’t understand how he was still alive. She remembered him dying and dying and dying and she hated him for it. She charged at him, but he did not falter. When she lunged to bite he caught her by the throat, staggering, and when she opened her mouth to char him, he shoved his spear down her throat with a triumphant laugh. She threw her rage and all of the pain of the wound into her struggle, but she was helpless–

Gloriously helpless as with a single touch the Light held her fast, forced her face up to it, transfixed her with a gentle smile as she screamed and melted under its gaze, and though she fought at last gave her a gift she could receive —

A different kind of agony as her body fought to move against the paralysis of dreams, fought in reply to one brief call from the next room: “Mom?” She fought — or at least hoped she was fighting, or half-wished to fight. But she did not fight with all her strength; sleep felt too sweet, the touch of the Light too delightful, her fear of losing the dream and _him_ with it too strong — and failed.


Another take on the dragon fight in the painting, plus a suggestion at the end that this whole dream is bad news (and it is, after all, from the darkness)–our protagonist can’t drag herself out of it to help her daughter.