The Fire Inside Her

She was born with the sweet water lizards. Her scales were the same as theirs and they loved her as one of them. But secretly, she felt that there was nothing truly sweet about her. She played the water games with total focus, but never won a single race. She sang the water lullabies with her softest voice, but never hit notes the way others did. At night, it wasn’t the waterfalls or lily pads that filled her dreams, but fire, hot, uncontrollable, licking through the forest, touching and changing everything in its path. She was afraid how excited the dreams made her feel. She was ashamed that she only felt complete because her dreams were filled with fire.

So she worked harder on being sweet. She softened all her edges and became like the others, like water. She was flexible, agreeable. She was easy to swallow. She still never won a game, but she now told herself she was happy to be included. The others laughed at her singing, but she laughed too, agreeing that she was funny. She played her role as weakest link and denied the ache. The ache was dangerous. The ache was where all the bad feelings and questions lived. Like, when would she find something that she was made for? When could she stop feeling like her existence was a mistake? Exploring the ache might upend her world. So, even as the ache grew bigger, she ignored its dark call.

While the lizards played in their sweet water pond, a foreign agent worked its way into the forest. A hungry and relentlessly aggressive fungi moved swiftly, suffocating every tree, grass, and bush in a short amount of time. The lizards heard the cry of the birds, felt the fear of the insects, saw the plight of the deer, but were helpless. How can a water lizard save the forest? They cried as their sweet water pond became entangled with algae. Everyone cried, but she did not. She had cried enough tears over her inadequacies over the years, was angry. She was livid with the fungus and algae for destroying her beautiful home. She was mad at the inaction of her family. She was hurt that no one else had been able to save their forest.

She closed her eyes and felt all the anger sweeping right into the place where the ache had been stockpiled. Like a lit match on dry tinder, she was suddenly full of feelings that she couldn’t ignore. It was too much and none of it was sweet. Frustration and doubt and jealousy and uselessness that had been stockpiled for ages all volcanoed within her. She felt like it would crush her if she kept it inside one minute longer. She opened her mouth and began to scream. And along with her voice came fire.

It felt good, so very good to scream that she kept her eyes closed. She didn’t realize the fire she ignited, only the warm release. When she finally opened her eyes, she sputtered, shocked at what she had done. Her lizard family fluttered about, yelling as the fire caught on around them. They were upset at first, until they heard that the fire was fixing the forest. The birds chirped down the message that the fire was working to destroy the fungus. More was needed to the east. Could the Firestarter get to work over there? The birds wondered. The sweet water lizards wondered, too. They looked to her with a mix of plead, awe, and fear. How did she make fire? Could she do it again?

She stretched out her lizard limbs to look at her scales, but saw that they were no longer exactly like everyone else. With the heat that had coursed through her body, they had begun to crack and peel, revealing thicker skin underneath. The old skin itched, begging to be shed. She twisted and felt bones in her back, ones that had lied dormant and languid before. With a violent shake, she shed the skin of her former self. The lizards gasped as they took her in. She was black, shiny, with wings sprouting from her back. She was never a sweet water lizard. She was a dragon.

She pushed off, taking flight towards the east. It felt amazing to glide through air. To not be held back by water, as she had all her life, was incredible to experience. Dipping low with ease, she found the start of the fungus invasion. Blasting her fire at the mother crops, she made a deep ark around the forest against the wind. The two starts of the fire met each other and now evacuated of animal life, the infested forest burned quickly. She watched from above with a mix of awe and sadness. The life she had before had been shed and left to the flames. She was a dragon now. It was as if the dreams she had for years were both a premonition and a warning. She would start the fire. And the fire would start her.

Weeks passed. The forest returned back to life, the regrowth fast after the healing fire. The sweet water pond went back to normal with the sweet water lizards taking their place of comfort and rest. But there was one missing from their herd. Every night, they watched the skies for her and told the tale of the lizard who never sweet because she held too much fire.