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Dragons Among Us

Available at RoguePhoenixPress.com; Amazon. com - C. L. Kraemer. 

Prologue

On May 18, 1980, the world exploded for the residents of the Northwest. Mt. St Helen's, thought to be an inactive volcano, blew its top-literally. The warning signs had been there for all to see, but people, as they are wont to do, ignored the small tremblers she had been sending out for over a year. When no one listened, she talked, and people died.

New life has sprung up around the wounded mountain. All types of new life.


 Chapter One-Portland, Oregon


Aleda rolled her amber flecked, turquoise eyes toward the ceiling.

"I don't see it, Warren," she sighed.

He jabbed his stubby finger at the photograph centered on the young reporter's desk.

"Right here, Aleda. This spot in the sky near Mt. St Helens. It's just to the right of the lava dome. Right here, see?" he jabbed hard at the upper corner of the picture.

She bent over the 8 x 10 glossy and squint her eyes at the black speck her boss, and editor, Warren Hennessey, seemed adamant was some unnatural phenomenon.

"Warren, look. See this wisp of grey smoke spiraling into the air?"

Aleda traced the faint line from the lava dome to the top of the frame. The now-active volcano had been spewing forth a thin warning line of smoke since the May 18, 1980 eruption.

Bending his fleshy form to peer over her shoulder, he grunted.

Ignoring the all-too-male response, Aleda continued. "Not only does the dome kick out smoke, but it also blows bits of debris into the air. What you are seeing here," she pointed a delicate, long fingernail at the speck, "is probably a bit of dirt-nothing more. No aliens; no Bigfoot; no monsters from deep within the earth. Just dirt."

Turning to face him, she narrowed her eyes, the pupils elongating into black slits.

"Either way, what does it have to do with me?" Squinting further, she pursed her full lips, the resulting effect giving her the appearance of an angry Siamese cat. A dark tendril of hair had escaped her ponytail and was tantalizingly clinging to the side of her mocha-toned skin.

Warren cleared his throat as he pulled away from her to plop his girth on the edge of the desk behind hers.

"Darn it, Aleda, I hate it when you do that thing with your eyes. It's just not natural."

She crossed her arms over her chest, her mouth moving into a thin line.

"I, uh, I, uh, need somebody to check it out; somebody reliable."

As she started to protest, Warren held up his hand.

"If I had anyone else I could trust, I wouldn't ask, but... all my other reporters are tied up on big stories. Can't you please fit it in your schedule?"

Aleda watched the paunchy, pale editor wipe perspiration from his forehead. He knew more about this assignment than he was telling her. If she parlayed his guilt correctly, she might be able to leverage this assignment into some real reporting instead of the tabloid trash she was forced to fabricate. She watched a trickle of sweat meander past his watery blue eyes. He's acting the same way he did last year when there was that rash of murders on the waterfront. If I remember the story the Oregonian carried, the man they finally captured for the crimes stated he was the one the press called Jack the Ripper. Said he was a Winger, and he could fly. The week before the police made the arrest, Warren had some guy with a really bad Cockney accent calling himself Naughty Nick show up claiming to fly and live as long as he wanted. Funny-he disappeared as quickly as he appeared.

She watched Warren shift uncomfortably on the edge of the desk.

"I'll take this story on one condition."

"Sure. What condition?" Warren's face relaxed.

"You tell me the truth about this assignment."

Aleda watched the left side of his face twitch involuntarily.

"Well, uhm..."

"Don't have time then. I still have work to do on my Master's degree. I just won't be able to fit it into my schedule." She moved the photo to the side of her desk and grabbed paperwork from her In basket. The hair on the back of her neck bristled as she felt Warren staring at her.

"Okay. I received a tip from Naughty Nick."

Aleda groaned. Why couldn't I have thought about Orlando Bloom?

"As I was saying," Warren started again, "I received a tip from Naughty Nick that there are..." the air thickened with hesitation, "...dragons living in Mt. St. Helens."

Aleda spun her chair around. "Dragons?! Dragons?! Warren, did you get your degree in journalism or Science Fiction and Fantasy writing? Dragons are not real! They are creatures spoken of, briefly, in Revelations who exist solely in Purgatory."

She grit her teeth.

"Dragons don't exist in real life. And what's more, you're still in contact with this nutcase, Naughty Nick, who thinks he's over 200 years old and can fly? What have you been smoking?"

She stood up, grabbed her briefcase and began to shove paperwork inside.

"I know why nobody's available-they think you've lost your mind, Warren. I'll bet they got busy the minute you mentioned Naughty Nick." She slammed shut the lid and grabbed the handle. She turned to face him, her eyes blazing, the pupil a sliver of black.

Warren swallowed hard and laid his hand on her arm.

"You're the only one I've trusted with the information about Naughty Nick. You're right everyone else would think I'd truly lost my mind. I know you young kids are only here to get experience before you leave for real newspaper reporting, but, every so often, I get a story that makes me wonder what real news is. I can't explain it, but this Naughty Nick character seems genuine. As the editor and owner of a paper that prints less-than-authentic news, I've learned to spot the headline seekers. Nick doesn't want to be in the paper. Every time I mention using his name, he panics and starts to head for the door. He mentioned the last time he'd seen live dragons; he was a kid in London learning the ‘nickin' trade, guv.' He mumbled something about magic wars. At that time, they weren't sure if the human race was going to survive or not. He didn't want a repeat of the situation. Figured if we printed pictures and ran a story, even if people didn't believe, they'd at least be aware of them. Will you do the story, please?"

Warren's pitiful expression was more than Aleda could bear.

"All right, but my story on Bigfoot comes first. Agreed?"

"Agreed."

Aleda watched a lopsided smirk appear on Warren's face as he walked away from her desk to his office.

Why do I have the feeling I've just been had?

She grabbed the photo from the side of her desk and popped it into the briefcase. Two snaps of the latches, and she was on her way out of the office to her SUV and home.

She'd investigate further once she kicked her shoes off and watched the evening news. A flash of Naughty Nick's handsome, dark face complete with sardonic smile made her shudder.

Dragons, my foot.