Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a little girl named Princess Lucy. She lived in a small, beautiful kingdom. It was very safe and clean.
When Lucy was unhappy, servants fed her milk and cookies. Maids tucked her into bed at night under goosedown quilts and silk sheets. Her own personal chef served her dinner and breakfast and lunch.
Lucy's mother and father ruled the kingdom with justice and wisdom. They were beloved by their people.
One night, Lucy had a nightmare. She dreamed that a giant Dragon swooped down on their kingdom. It crashed through her father's castle, and chased Lucy all the way across the kingdom to a little castle. She ran inside. Up the steps to the top of a small tower. There, she found a small bedroom. And she hid under its bed.
But the Dragon smashed through the little castle. It fell down, down, down. Lucy dropped to the ground with it. She jumped up out of the wreckage, and ran outside. The Dragon was waiting. Lucy was caught. The Dragon opened his fiery mouth … and then Lucy woke up.
Lucy couldn't forget that dream. But she didn't tell anyone about it. She figured they’d never understand. So she lived with her fear.
When Lucy turned thirteen, her parents sent her to the Kingdom of Dragons. In spite of the ominous-sounding name, her new world was beautiful. There were friendly girls and boys everywhere, just like Lucy, who had come from all over the surrounding kingdoms. Lucy was given a small room at the top of a tall tower in the king's castle.
Lucy should have made friends. But she didn't. She worried about the Dragon.
One day, during a baking lesson in the kitchen, she saw him. He was crouched above her teacher’s head, on the mantle of the cooking fireplace. He was grinning at her and licking his fiery chops. Then, very slowly, he winked.
Lucy screamed. She left the kitchen and went running through the streets.
When she stopped running, she found herself outside a small cottage. She felt very thirsty. She went up the brick path and knocked on the door. An little old lady with white hair and a kindly face answered it. She looked at Lucy over her gold, wire-rimmed glasses. She smiled and invited her inside.
Lucy stepped into the warm kitchen. A fire was crackling in the fireplace and a pot was boiling. The little old lady offered her a cup of mint tea. Lucy took it and drank. The little old lady smiled again at Lucy. What was wrong? Did she want some milk and cookies?
Lucy sank into a chair. She wasn't hungry. She didn't want milk and cookies. She just wanted the Dragon dead. When the old lady asked her what was wrong, she could only stare at her.
Lucy looked at the little old lady's gold, wire-rimmed glasses, and the coils of her mind curled up into a tiny ball. It throbbed painfully. All she saw in its red glow was the dragon's winking eye. It winked and winked and winked and winked.
Finally, the tiny ball that was her mind uncurled. Lucy looked over at the little old lady, who was knitting patiently and humming a familiar nursery song. She smiled at Lucy.
Lucy got up out of her chair and thanked her. The little old lady led her to the door. She told Lucy that she was welcome to come back anytime.
Lucy returned to her room in the tall tower of the king's castle. On the desk was a letter from her parents. They were worried. They hadn't heard from her lately. She stared at the letter. She tried to answer it. But she couldn't.
Lucy dressed in her warm, yellow PJ's. She blew out the candle. She climbed into her large, four-poster bed. She pulled the goosedown quilt around her neck. She stared into the dark, listening to the sound of crickets chirping outside the small tower.
Lucy lay and thought about the Egyptian silk that made up her sheets, all 1050 threads. She thought about all the geese who grew the feathers in her goosedown quilt. She thought about the little old lady's smile and her gold, wire-rimmed glasses. She wondered if she'd be that kind when she was old. She thought about how safe she felt in the old lady's kitchen.
But behind it all was her fear of the dragon. It had turned the white strands of her mind to red, and they still quivered gently, setting her emotions on edge. She hurt all over. Finally, Lucy fell asleep.
The next day, silent, Lucy attended her classes. Her teachers asked her questions, but she couldn't focus. She kept watching for the Dragon. She just never knew when he'd appear.
Once she was warned by the sharp smell of his body odor, and she looked over to find him sitting beside her. Another time, she felt the hairs on her neck singe. She turned around, only to see him laughing at her. Once he landed right in front of her as she walked to class, causing her to go running in the opposite direction.
Each time, she tried not to scream. But she couldn't help herself. The other girls began to avoid her when they saw her coming. They hated her screams.
The worst part, she thought, was that no one else could see her Dragon.
When she first arrived, four months previous, she'd never felt more safe. She was in a kingdom where her teachers were trained to find and kill dragons. Surely, when he showed up, all of her teachers would fight off her Dragon. She'd be protected. But now she realized that her Dragon was invisible to everyone but her.
It's why they all look at me so strangely, she thought. There he is, plain as day, hovering in the air above me. And no one sees him. Not his rough scales. Not his oily back. Not his sharp, dirty claws. That's the very worst part. I'm so alone.
Only the little old lady understands, Lucy thought. But how can she help me?