The sky was ice blue and frosted with clouds, as wild winds tousled the crowds’ hair until they were tiny tornadoes. A perfect day for origami kites.
Kalib jogged with a folded kite under his arm, a big “3” on his shirt, and exhaustion like chains on his heels. Father’s voice echoed inside him as it had all night. “You’re almost a man. It’s time you did something to make your family proud.” Pride, Kalib thought. What did pride have to do with ruining what you loved? I’m no kite master like him.
A bullhorn sat atop a pole and yelled “Contestant One! Launch your kite!”
Kalib ran harder as the contest began. A folded square of gentle pink was launched high above the crowd, a single string dangling from a corner. Wind tossed it around like a tiger playing with a mouse until he heard Ying’s famous battle cry. “Ta da!”
The string was yanked and the square blossomed in a thousand quicksilver folds. Emerging in the sky was a rainbow coloured crane with psychedelic wings that flapped and rose into the blue, flying with grace and poise.
The crowd roared while Kalib made it to his position, caught his breath, and tried not to think about the creature under his arm.
Every manga book he’d hunted for, cared for, and loved, all had lain like hogs on a butcher table as he cut and mutilated them all night long under Dad’s watchful eye. The bullhorn yelled again. “Contestant two! Launch your kite!”
A black square shot into the air, and Charson’s screamed, “Ka-boom!” The string was yanked.
The square burst into a Halloween stain of red and orange that soon morphed into a wild eyed gryphon. Boys cheered the badass kite as it swam close to the crane. Ying twisted her string and kicked the gryphon in the tail to a round of polite applause.
“No Fighting!” screamed the Bullhorn, and the kites resumed wind riding. “This is a contest, not a Battle Royale!”
Kalib yawned and took the folded square from his armpit. Sweat stained the images of Gigan-tor-naut, The Bubble Gum Bullets, Cowboy Zap, and all the heroes that, once upon a time, he’d imitated on his own sketch pad. Crude homages. Nothing more. That’s what father said. But Kalib had dreamed of being his own artists, of being like his heroes who made such magical issues of inspiration.
Now, his collection was just a mutilated and mangled origami kitemare.
Father’s hand on his shoulder made him flinch. “It’s time. Ready?”
“Contestant Three,” cried the Bullhorn. “Launch your Kite!”
“Kalib?” said Father. “Listen. I know last night was tough.”
“Contestant three?” said the Bullhorn.
“Hey,” Charson said, his gryphon swooping “Look at Blubber Face! This time he’s crying before I kick his ass!”
“Hurry up, loser” Ying said. “You’re daddy might be a champ, but you’re wasting my time. I want my trophy!”
“Final call for Contestant Three,” cried the Bullhorn. “Launch your kite at the end of the count. One!”
“But now, it’s your time,” said Father.
A tear splashed across the collage of heroes, right on Cowboy Zap’s face.
“Time to stop imitating,” Father said.
“Stop imitating?” Kalib said. “Why the heck am I even in this contest then? I’m just imitating you!”
Father’s hand squeezed. “You’ll see. Do it.”
Kalib grunted, then tossed the kite into the wild wind. The square spun like a flannel diamond, then Kalib yanked the string and screamed “whoo hoo.”
A fire-burst of colour snapped across the sky. Wings spread and a reptilian head emerged from the thousand folds, tail swinging like a mace as the wind took hold.
The crowd gasped, then laughed.
“It’s made out of manga!”
“What a welfare dragon!”
“His father’s going to kill him.”
“Don’t listen to them,” Father said. “Listen to yourself, Kalib.” He removed his hand “What do you see?”
The string tugged his tight fingers. Above, the dragon soared, and Kalib heard the roar of engines in space, the thunder of laser cannon, the triumphant scream of heroes.
Father smiled, and from behind his back, he handed him a new sketch pad, pencil attached with a string. “Don’t just imitate. Create.”
Kalib’s mouth hung, but he nodded. He released the tether, and took the book.
The dragon flew free and tore through the gryphon and crane like acid through tissue. Ying and Charson screamed, but both kites fell to earth like ragged snowflakes. The dragon dove, dispersing the crowd, then sailed high and toward the horizon.
Kalib sketched his creation’s battle as fast as he could, a flurry of dark lines on fresh white pages that filled with emotion and energy. “That’s it,” father said. “Follow your own dragon.
As the origami dragon ran wild, so did Kalib’s pencil, until the page filled not only with what he saw, but what he imagined, until the dragon flew past the horizon.
Kalib kept drawing, Dad standing in his shadow. Both smiling.
Jason S. Ridler has published over thirty short stories in such magazines and anthologies as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Big Pulp, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, and more. His popular non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, on Facebook, and on Twitter @JayRidler.