Reggie took them up to about five hundred feet and leveled out. Neville stood up in his cockpit and peered through binoculars as the wind rushed past him, his long scarf fouling half his view and the upper wing of the plane obscuring the other half. He was not a man given to cursing but Reggie’s sensitive ears might have picked up a grumble or two. They passed over the little abandoned chapel in the woods and then a series of barns, and while a number of cows looked up, disturbed in their evening’s sleep, no dragons immediately presented themselves.
The Jenny carried enough fuel for two hours of flight at the most. Reggie kept a keen eye on the fuel gauge as they quartered the county, flying long passes north and then south. Once or twice he thought he might have heard some flapping, but it was always so faint and distant that he prepared to give up hope. For a creature as brooding and self-possessed as the werewolf hope was a more expensive resource than gasoline. He had convinced himself, by the time the tank was half empty, that the dragon would fail to make an appearance. That he had many more nights of cribbage and Neville’s buoyant company to look forward to.
Then, without warning, Neville nearly jumped out of the ‘plane. He waved his bandaged hands in the air and shouted something incomprehensible but which almost certainly began with D and ended with N and had too many letters for it to be a command to set down.
There are two reasons that aviators wear silk scarves. One is because they look dashing, and pilots are hardly uncognizant of their own glamour. The other is that they are constantly turning their heads back and forth as they look in all directions at once, and they don’t wish to chafe their necks. Reggie did a passable impersonation of an owl as he twisted his head around, looking for what had got Neville so worked up. It didn’t take long to find it. A drooping, emaciated silhouette passing below a scudding silver cloud.
“Dragon!” Neville cried once more. “Dragon!”
It was most certainly not a dragon. It was nothing like a fire-breathing lizard with vast bat wings, nor like a serpent of any description, nor any kind of reptile.
As Reggie climbed to meet the beast, he got a very good look at it. He thought it looked like a plucked goose, the kind one sees hanging in butcher’s shops. Emaciated, terribly pale, with all the muscle groups picked out in stark and unflattering detail.
That was only Reggie’s first impression of the thing, however. It had other salient features which further removed it from the sphere of dragon-hood. For instance it had more than the usual consignment of legs, really more than any animal ought to need. Long thin appendages that dangled lifelessly below its sunken chest. It had a tail like a bullwhip that ended in a nasty stinger gleaming with poison. Its head resembled nothing in Reggie’s experience, with a single very large eye, compounded like those of a fly or a bee. Its mouth was slack and wet.
It possessed wings, which was hardly surprising. Yet they looked nothing like the wings of a bat, nor a duck for that matter. The wings, of which there were six (again, really too many for public decency) were translucent and veiny and flabby and really quite unpleasant to look at.
“Dragon!” Neville said, presumably for the fourth time though Reggie had lost count.
“Boss,” Reggie said, “I don’t know.” It was certainly the creature they’d come looking for. The likelihood that there was more than one giant flying creature plaguing the airspace of Westchester County was slim, indeed. “I don’t think ‘dragon’ is the word I’d use,” Reggie had to insist, however.
“Think of a better one and let me know,” Neville shouted back. “Until then—dragon!”
Reggie estimated the creature was about sixty feet long, considerably larger than the Jenny. The sizes of airborne objects are notoriously hard to gauge, but it helps when said object is clutching in its bony talons the limp body of a dead human being for scale. As they drew closer Reggie could do little but stare at the horror. Which of course quickly became a problem.
For, if one may mangle a Nietzsche quote (and to be fair, most people do), if you gaze long enough at a dragon, the dragon will gaze back at you.
The beast’s massive head came round to face Reggie dead on. Three of its six wings flapped with a noise he’d already come to dread. The beast dropped its dead cargo and with a burst of speed flew straight at the Jenny, roaring as it came.