The dodo was dying. She knew it, with the instinct a creature brings to its own mortality. She longed to die without even knowing she longed; all she knew was that she was tired to death. Her mate had died four days ago. He was 46, an immense age, even for a dodo.
But there was one task left to complete before she laid down her burden.
The egg rocked slightly in the nest; its hatching time was near. Though the dodo did not realise it, this egg was bigger than the one she had laid 35 days earlier. Its shell had a blue mottled luminescence that, colour blind, she could not see.
Restlessly she tramped round the cave where she had made her shelter from predators. Every now and again she prodded the egg, turning it and settling it more firmly in the nest, but she did not sit on it.
She had sat on the egg for 33 days, leaving the nest only briefly and infrequently to feed herself. Some instinct told her that this was far longer than she had sat any egg before.
Returning from an earlier foray she had sensed something wrong, something different in the cave. She tensed for danger, but the egg was still there, safe in the nest. Her small eyes did not notice the tiny shards of eggshell near the entrance to the cave.
It was dusk. The shadow of the circling mountains engulfed the little valley, bringing night while bright day still stood on the upper slopes. In the distance, a speck in the sky drew ever closer, joined by another and then another. A bugling cry rang out across the landscape.
Night came and went. Dawn found the dodo crouched in a corner of the cave, watching. A crack had split the egg while she slept, and from within it came a hissing mew which her instincts told her was all wrong. Still as stone, she waited.
The egg rocked, and then rocked again. Inside, the young creature was butting the tough shell with increasing fury. At last the egg split wide open and the chick emerged.
It was like no dodo chick she had ever hatched. Its legs were scaly, squat and bowed. Its beak was stumpy and its wings far too large for its body. It lurched from the nest with a cry that was at once alien and familiar.
Ignoring the fat grubs which she had laid on the ground, still wriggling, for its first meal, the baby stumbled outside. Strange birds had congregated on the high crags, larger than the dodo, larger than any birds she had ever seen. Their beaks were foreshortened, their legs scaly and bowed, their wings far too large for their bodies. They lifted their heads to the sky and their eerie cry rang out.
Responding, the chick raised his head. His baby cry echoed theirs. A wisp of steam rose into the air. The dragons looked down at their new hatchling, and were pleased.
The alpha female folded her wings. Almost constantly airborne since she broke from the egg, it had taken her much searching to find a safe nest to which she could entrust her own egg — one of only three she would lay in her lifetime.
Extending her neck she began to croon, softly at first and then louder as the little dragon in the valley turned his head towards her. The dodo emerged from the cave. Her beak full of grubs, she butted her head against this strange offspring, begging him to feed. He turned on her with a searing hiss and she staggered back, falling heavily on to her side.
The baby broke into a trot, flapping ungainly wings. After two or three attempts he launched himself into precarious flight, and as the dodo’s eyes closed for the final time she saw in the sky the dwindling speck that was her last hatchling.
Patricia Feinberg Stoner has been a journalist, advertising copywriter and publicist. Now retired, she lives in West Sussex and is a member of her local U3A creative writing group. She is the author of Paw Prints in the Butter, a collection of humorous verses about cats, available from Amazon. Profits from this book are donated to a local animal charity. Published work also includes short stories and poems in various print and online anthologies and websites. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or Paw Prints in the Butter on Facebook.