That same morning down by the docks Eric was sleeping inside a old shed where he had managed to make himself comfortable. Suddenly lightning flashed, lighting up the early morning skies and the following thunder shook the ground. This caused Eric to bolt upright holding his hand on his pounding chest. The concussion from the thunder had jolted every fibre and nerve in his body. Swearing out loud at the shock he jumped up and looked about the ratty shed he was sleeping in down by the harbour to see if it was still in one piece. Finally after several more colourful metaphors he calmed down and looked out the window.
"Figures, rain again," he mumbled to no one in particular.
The rain had just started to fall, as he debated what he was going to do today. Hunger is always the main driver of kids on the street. While at lot of people think they run away to have fun, that is far from true. The fact is real life on the streets is not about fun. It is about living day-to-day, and hoping the streets are kinder than the situation was back home.
Eric started to gather the few belongings he had and stowed them in his backpack. He looked around the shack for anything he might have missed before heading out. The shack, which had been his home for the last couple weeks, was nice and dry offering him the much needed protection that always seemed to be lacking on the streets. Opening the door he left the comfort of his dry spot for the weather outside. As he looked up into the rain-filled skies the downpour began to soak into him.
He started to walk up Harbour Boulevard to catch the morning train and as he walked along he ran into his friend Swift. Swift was an unusual street kid, having long scruffy light brown hair he seemed very wise for his age. A lot of the kids on the streets knew him and he was always helpful to them. Giving advice, pointing out places to sleep, and he would watch over them. His circle of close friends was a small group of three boys, one of those being Eric.
"Hey Eric, how'd ya sleep?" Swift asked with a grin, knowing the thunder had awakened him as well.
"Slept great until that thunder. I thought that the shack I was in exploded!" Eric proclaimed, rather annoyed.
"So where should we go this morning? City Centre for breakfast?" Swift asked.
"Race you to the train!" Eric yelled as he took off running.
"You brat!" Swift shouted as he leapt forward to trail after Eric.
They soon arrived at Harbour Front Station, Eric just barely beating Swift to the door. Swift was always the fastest runner, he smiled knowing he could have easily beat Eric to the doors. They entered the building just as the storm finally grew to full strength. Walking the almost empty station they headed for the platform to catch the first train to City Centre Station.
The harbour area was never good for panhandling as it was frequented more often by the police, thereby making life even more miserable for kids. Harbour Front was at the end of the line so there seemed to always be a train ready to go. They climbed aboard, walked to the back of the end car, and grabbed a seat for the short ride to City Centre.
After the ten-minute ride they arrived at the platform in the lower level of City Centre. Since it was still early they started looking for a place to see if they could make some money to get them through the day, possibly even into the next day. Arriving before the crowds it was easy to find a couple of good spots that were out of the way and would not cause them to attract too much unwanted attention. Now that panhandling was no longer illegal, it seemed like everyone who did not truly need money came out to see how much they could collect. This made it tough for kids like Eric and Swift to make anything decent, however it was raining and a school day so they knew their chances would be much better than usual.
Morning proper had broken as the first of the commuters got off the trains on the lower platform. These were usually working-class people, not the big suits and snooty types. It was always somehow easier to get a couple of coins from the labourers than it was with the ones wearing fancy ties. It is funny how it works. Those who have plenty never even consider those who have nothing, yet those who work hard and only have just enough to get by always seemed to have an extra coin or two in their pockets.
After some time went by the platform became overly crowded with more commuters. Eric walked towards Swift picking his way through the press of people. Swift was leaning against a pole somewhat out of the way of passers-by and was asking the odd person for a coin for some food. It seemed a bit strange as Eric approached Swift and he paused to watch for a moment. It began to appear as though every person Swift asked handed him a coin.
Seeing this Eric made a mental note to himself, "Always stick with Swift when short of money."
"Looks like you're doing well," Eric said as he approached Swift.
"Not too bad, I seem to have found a real lucky spot today," replied Swift.
"I'd say so. It seemed like as I walked up everyone who was passing by handed you something! So how much and what's for breakfast? Looks like you're buying," Eric said as he grinned at his friend.
"Let's get out of the crowds and head upstairs since I'm paying," Swift replied while grinning.
The boys wandered the food court finding few vendors open as it was still fairly early. They bought a couple of things off one of the open carts scattered along the station walkways and then found themselves a bench. Sitting down they munched their snack whilst waiting for the food courts to fully open for the morning trade.
Swift sat eating a Danish while reading a several-days-old newspaper left sitting on the bench. Like towns and cities everywhere, one thing always remained the same, one could always find something to read on just about any bench in a train station.
Eric seemed to be staring at the throng of people passing by as he bit into his doughnut. He wondering to himself if maybe one day he would be one of those drone types, same stuffed suit, same briefcase, same walk, a cell phone glued to their ear, and even getting on the same train car every day.
Eric had run away from home and headed for the coastal town since the weather was much gentler. Living on the streets here was much easier unlike his home on the prairies. There the temperatures were so wild they could drop from a daytime high of forty below, and the summers were equally bad with a nighttime low of over thirty-two degrees. Although there was far more rain on the coast, the temperatures did not have the wild fluctuations like people lived with on the plains.
He had traveled quite a distance to reach the coast, not proud of some of the things he had had to do, and the ways he used to get there. Although it was far better than staying at home the alternative could sometimes be even worse. It was better to suffer periodically than to be in constant pain and always treated like dirt. Every kid on the street has their own story, but ninety percent of them are all the same – some form of abuse drove them to the street since they had no other options.
People think Social Services is always on the job taking care of kids with problems; far from it. With the current societal emphasis on tax cutting and downsizing, Social Services everywhere were severely underfunded and understaffed. Those still working there had turned into drones and just wanted the days to end so they could get home, pour themselves a drink, and watch some mind-numbing reality show on television. When society incessantly denigrates civil servants and refuses to fund efforts properly one never gets the best people, and the results are predictable. It is very much like under-qualified teachers producing effectively illiterate high-school graduates. Those with the necessary skills and empathy know better than to put up with the lousy conditions and the near-constant abuse. Society has made a choice, it is no wonder so many kids slip through the cracks on a daily basis.
As Eric dwelt on his future prospects he noted a change in his friend Swift. While he was more focused on what was in front of him out of the corner of his eye he saw a strange purple-looking glow around the neck and shoulders of his friend's head. Not one to ask too many questions, Eric looked directly at Swift for just a moment and knew what he saw was really there. This was also not the first time he had seen it. He felt certain it would not be the last time either. Not wanting to lose one of the only friends he had, Eric said nothing but could not help taking a quick peek now and then to see if the glow was still there.
While Eric was immersed deep in his thoughts Swift read the headlines as he skimmed the paper. The saying "same old shit, different day" came to him as he went down the page. Yet again, this ruler wants things done one way, that ruler wants things done another way, and both ways of course were wrong or at best counterproductive. Of more interest, as well as the best part of the paper in his view, a new Dilbert cartoon was out and Swift began to chuckle at the comic strip. Although enjoying reading the paper Swift was fully aware of all that went on around him. This extended even to closely keeping watch on the young boy sitting next to him with the messed-up blond hair because that was the current look. He also had not missed the dark circles under Eric's small hazel eyes which he knew were caused by lack of decent sleep.
Swift wished he could share all of his knowledge with Eric, as he had kept it to himself and had let almost no one into his most private inner circle. Since most people would not believe the truth anyway, it remained a burden he carried alone other than a very few kids who had figured him out over the years.
Most of the kids that knew about Swift had died on the streets – either at the hands of gangs, wicked people, or from being sent back home. Perversely those sent home often died a slower death at the hands of the very ones who were supposed to love and care for them. Thinking those dark thoughts a single silver tear ran down Swift's cheek. Just one boy knew the secret now, and he would probably take it to an early grave as well. Then again as Swift thought about it more he knew the other boy was a good fighter and might go far.
Rousing out of his dark thoughts and trying to become cheerful again, Swift noticed that one of the diners had opened for the early morning crowd. Nudging Eric, Swift pointed in the direction of the diner. They both got up and headed in for a decent breakfast.
Walking into the diner they found the normal corner booth out of the way. The waitress walked over and looked, but before the words could even hit her lips Swift held up a fistful of cash. She then set the menus down and walked away. In her mind street urchins did not belong in any place, they belonged back at home with their families and not wandering the streets. Sadly this is how most people felt and acted. Kids belong at home and if not, in foster homes or juvenile facilities.
The boys quickly skimmed the menu, setting them down when they where ready to order. The waitress came back and put down two glasses of water. With her pad now in hand the boys ordered a good hearty breakfast that was on special that morning. The choice would save them money, meaning for more later and perhaps even into the following day.
Eric looked around as they waited. The diner had seen better days, duct tape covered holes in the booths where someone had probably cut it with a knife. Stuffing was coming out of one of the seat cushions, as if it were plucked by small fingers. In front of the boys, the diner had the usual row of fixed stools with red vinyl seat tops running along a counter. Although the place was clearly rundown it was still clean, and it still had some of that old-fashioned charm. Eric thought this place was probably built at the same time as the train station itself.
"The food smells good or am I just really starving?" Swift said still trying to snap himself out of his dark mood.
Jumping slightly, Eric responded, "Yeah it really does. I haven't had a hot breakfast in weeks. This should be good."
"Anything has got to be better for breakfast than dumpster diving," replied Swift.
They continued with the small talk, mainly things like wondering how long the rain would last. The food finally arrived, the waitress setting several large plates in front of them as well as a couple of extra-large glasses of orange juice which they had not ordered. They both looked at her with a puzzled expression and she winked at them and walked away.
Even though people can think one thing in a knee-jerk fashion, it does not mean their hearts feel the same way deep down. More people need to think with their hearts and not with their prejudices, there might be less fighting if they did.
Both boys ate their breakfast slowly, since they felt they would not be run off. They took their time and enjoyed their meal, since normally they would have had to rush through and get out. People did not normally like seeing semi-dirty kids in rags and usually complained about it to whomever was on hand. Time was something they always had a lot of, but in some places time was less of a gift than others. Eric also noticed that the plates seemed to be more ladened with food than a normal serving. The plates also included some things that where not on the morning special.
"Our plates seem fuller and much larger than usual," Eric commented between mouthfuls of food.
Swift nodded, "Yeah I think we got to the waitress this morning."
Eric looked up while chewing his food and he still saw that same strange glow, only this time it was not around Swift. It now appeared to be near the table, almost as if it was sitting in the booth next to Swift. As Swift chewed, Eric noticed that small portions were disappearing from Swift's plate even though Swift had not touched them. Questioning his sanity again Eric pushed the thoughts aside and continued to eat his breakfast.
After a good fifteen minutes the boys had polished the plates coming close to removing the standard green ring around the edge of them. The waitress came up and set two large slices of cake by each boy, with a scoop of ice cream, some hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
"We didn't order dessert," Eric said with a confused look on his face.
In a soft voice the waitress replied, "No you didn't. I guess I am making up for the thoughts I had earlier. This is my way of saying I'm sorry. Also don't worry about the food it's on the house. I know you boys never get much of a break, if there is anything else you need please just ask me."
Both boys thanked her for her generosity. The unexpected gift also meant they would have more than one meal over the next day or two, unless they ran into any of their friends; if they had not eaten they would always share what they had with them. That was life on the streets, help yourself first, but always help a friend second. Anything else does not matter. Street kids are like small families. A group will stick together and help each other out as best they can.
Swallowing the last bit of cake and ice cream Eric looked up at Swift, a question was begging an answer. He had to know if he was going nuts or if he was just tired or maybe he was really seeing something. Now with their bellies full it seemed like a good time to finally ask.
"Swift," Eric hesitated.
"Yeah bud?" Swift replied.
"I um, well you see, I don't know maybe it is nothing," Eric stammered.
"You've been looking like something is bothering you," Swift responded. "I have a feeling I know what it is."
"You know? Oh hell, here goes nothing. You'll just walk away thinking I am nuts anyway," Eric said, sounding less confident now. "Earlier I noticed you seemed to get change from everyone who passed by, then I seen a purplish glow, like all around your head and neck. Just a bit ago, I was watching that same purplish glow and it almost seemed to be helping you clean your plate. So am I going nuts or what gives?"
Swift sighed knowing the time had come when he should tell his friend everything. Since there were only a few of his kind left, Swift decided he would let his secret out once more. Swift felt Eric was a good enough friend and he was sure he could be trusted with what he was about to learn. He also knew that maybe he had found another who could help.
"Eric, there is something. I know you have seen it. Hell it has been bugging me because I've been wanting to say something or just even talk about it," Swift started.
"How could something be bugging you? You're like the coolest kid I know," Eric said quickly seeing the look on Swift's face change and his friend slowly began to look a lot different then he had thought.
Swift continued, "I belong to an old race of people. We're not quite human, we are Elvish."
"Are you sure you're alright?" Eric asked, rather puzzled but yet somehow believing what Swift was saying.
"Let me get this out in one go and then maybe this will go a bit easier. You can laugh at me all you want, but you'll understand as I explain," Swift quickly replied.
"Okay, fair enough. I haven't laughed yet, and I don't think I will. I know something is up when I see it," Eric said in a reassuring voice.
Swift's appearance began to shift some more as they sat in the booth together. Time seemed to stretch out, but it was only a few seconds and then Swift began to speak in earnest.
"As I started to say I am not a normal human. I am an Elf, and before you say Santa Claus, wrong elves! We have been around in your world for far longer then you have been. I hope that makes some sort of sense to you." Swift said as he paused in his explanations.
"Kinda. You look different somehow now I can't … It's your ears! You ain't kidding me!" Eric exclaimed as his eyes grew large with wonder.
"There are not many of our kind left, I was the last child born in two hundred years," said Swift as he continued. "We are blessed with long life and we are the protectors of the whimsical beings of your faerie tales, myths, and legends. There are few of us left and we guard those creatures fiercely since sadly the lands they are living on are being destroyed. Most people do not believe. Belief is easier as a child, but as you grow up it fades. There was once a time when everyone believed as we do, but that has long been forgotten. It all began long ago, back before man could even make fire."
Looking at his friend and the change in his face and ears Eric thought a second then spoke, "Umm dude if the waitress comes back won't she like notice the change in you?"
"No, only you can see the change and one other person that you know. Like I said as people get older belief starts to fade so even if I danced in front of her she would just think I was nuts. We'll get into more details later." Swift replied making sure to try and answer all of Eric's questions.
"So like the Big Bad Wolf and stuff are all real is what you're saying?" Eric queried.
"No not the Big Bad Wolf," Swift replied with a smile. "Think more along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons. Skip most of the kiddy books and movies, with pictures of what Tinker Bell and Peter Pan look like. Move your thinking more into the world of faeries, unicorns and dragons."
Eric's jaw dropped for a moment, as he took in the information he was hearing He always had felt that creatures like that could be real. He even had vivid dreams about them, seeing fanciful Fae Beings during his sleep. Now he suddenly realized, sitting on the table right in front of him, was a small purple dragon with several horns on its head, its wings spread, and a long tail ending in a fork. Some of the scales on its body looked like sapphires and shone brightly and its yellow belly glowed like the sun.
Eric nearly jumped out of his skin as little tendrils of smoke drifted up from the nostrils of the dragon. Swift sat smiling at his friend as he calmly stroked the back of the dragon's neck. As he did this the dragon seemed to almost purr as Eric tried to take in the surreal scene in front of him.
"Relax. Settle back down before the waitress comes round. Yes he is real, and no she will not see it. Do you see anyone else looking at him?" Swift asked in a loud whisper, not wanting people nearby to wonder what was going on.
Eric looked about slowly settling back in the booth. Nobody appeared to be running and screaming in terror. "I damn near pissed my pants," he finally hissed. "That thing scared the crap right out of me. Is it really a dragon?"
"Yes it is a dragon," Swift said, holding up a finger before Eric could respond. "Before you ask more questions let me continue. Dragons come in many sizes. They can change shapes at will as well as their relative size, but only to about as small as Fáfnir is now and up to as large as a twenty story building."
Eric tried to calm himself and sat staring, amazed at the incredible looking dragon that was sitting right in front of him. He had hardly heard a word of what Swift had said but yet he understood. It was as if a key inside his head had been turned and a door opened. Eric sat there and began taking in all of the information Swift was giving him.
Swift continued, "Dragons, unlike in books and fiction movies, are pure magic to the core. Everything about a dragon is magical from its breath weapons, right down to the very fabric of their being. They can do everything from shape shifting to fire breathing – dragons can do it all. It is all but impossible to slay a dragon although there are a few weapons that can. A person would have to be a fool to try however, they would almost certainly fail and be killed. It also takes another dragon to destroy the remains of a dead dragon."
Eric finally snapping out of his amazement asked, "Do they eat people?"
This gained a laugh out of Swift, and a huge grin from Fáfnir who was now showing his razor sharp teeth. He began clicking them together and licking his lips as he stared at Eric who started to inch away seeing this. Swift grinned and laughed again as he stroked the back of the dragon.
"He only eats thirteen-year-old boys. Mostly ones with scruffy blond hair," Swift finally chuckled.
Eric then stuck out his tongue at Swift and relaxed realizing it was merely a joke. Getting ready to leave, the boys left a large tip on the table knowing that the waitress had spent probably half-a-day's tips on their meals. They then headed out of the diner. Eric still stared in amazement and wonder at the dragon that now rested on the shoulder and around the neck of Swift.
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