FLAME • by Marjan Sierhuis

Flame is deep in thought this morning as she stands by a river that flows leisurely behind the film set. Often a voracious eater, a pile of uneaten fish lays by her feet.

***

“Gentleheart, you are a dragon. The world can be a dangerous place for those who are different. For your own safety, you should stay near the family,” said her mother years ago when she was told of her daughter’s plans to leave home and spread her wings.

“I want to prove I can live on my own,” said Flame and bowed her head.

The mother was worried for her youngest child, who was somewhat shy, but offered Flame her blessing after great deliberation and told her she was always welcome home.

***

Cedric, a director of fantasy films, feels his heart pounding in his chest and swallows as he approaches Flame. He is troubled by flame-breathing dragons. This one is no exception. Perspiration dampens his forehead and trickles into the folds of his neck. Maintaining a respectable distance, he waits for his presence to be acknowledged.

Intuition tells Flame she is no longer alone. She looks up and sees Cedric and recognizes him from his appearance on film sets. And judging by the sour look on his face, she knows this isn’t a social call. She takes a deep breath and tries to ignore the butterflies in her stomach.

The air crackles with tension.

“I need to talk to you, and it can’t wait a minute longer,” he says with arms crossed over his chest.

Although alarmed by the tone of his voice, Flame musters up enough courage to move closer. “Speak,” she says in a guttural voice. She peeks out the corner of a yellow eye and waits for a response. She nearly sweeps him off his feet as she spreads her bat-like wings, ambles closer and tilts her head to the side. Cedric eventually recovers his footing but refuses to be intimidated by this bold behavior.

“The film’s producers want to use computer-generated imagery in their action scenes instead of a genuine dragon,” Cedric says in one breath.

This news doesn’t bode well for her. The studio must have forgotten their initial promise.

“You have the potential to be a major star someday. We will do our best to see you get there,” they had said several years ago.

Cedric takes a deep breath, exhales, and gingerly moves forward. “Sorry about this unfortunate news, but due to budgetary constraints, I may have to let you and the other dragons go. Several of our film sets have recently disappeared in a puff of smoke.” He pauses and sniffs the air. “Our water bills are enormous and insurance premiums considerable.”

Flame shakes her head. Here she is. Years later. A film extra with no benefits or pension plan. She does what she is told, without asking any questions. She accepts a pittance of a salary after working her claws to the bone. And overcoming her shyness is a work in progress. She suddenly moans and flails her arms.

“Sorry,” says Cedric. “We have no choice.”

“No, no, no,” Flame screams, but the words catch in her throat.

“You’re fired. There is nothing more I have to say about the matter,” says Cedric and turns away.

Flame puffs out her chest. “This is unacceptable.” She flicks her tongue, flares her nostrils, and encircles Cedric’s body with her scaly tail. Drawing on an internal supply of elemental energy that courses through her veins, and feeling liberated, her wings suddenly lift her off the ground. And she gives a low growl as she takes flight.

“Ouch. Put me down so we can talk about it,” yells Cedric.

Later that day, in the dragon’s lair, Flame unfurls her tail and carefully releases her unsteady passenger.

“I am sorry if my behavior alarmed you, but I feel I had no choice,” she says with conviction as she watches Cedric crawl behind a nearby boulder. “You have no idea how difficult it is to be a film extra. It is difficult with my large dimensions to fade into the background. When the occasional request is made of me to breathe fire, I find it exhausting since it depletes all my energy stores. And by now, I could have auditioned for a speaking part, like the other dragons. But they kept telling me I first needed to work on my enunciation and diction.

Cedric suddenly sees the dragon in a new light. He leaves the security of the rock and approaches Flame.

Flame speaks in a softer tone and apologizes for her recent conduct. She hopes it hasn’t caused him much angst and promises never to repeat such foolish behavior. Cedric vows to attend a workshop on communication.

They discuss Flame’s future in the movie industry and how she can achieve her goals through perseverance and hard work. And after a tour of the lair, Cedric leaves on his own.

***

Months later, Cedric throws fish in the air to Flame while he helps his friend rehearse her lines.


Marjan Sierhuis loves reading and writing flash fiction.


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