By: Leia Stone

Thank God for small favors.

That knife belonged in a really weird kitchen, not in me.

With no time to waste, I yanked hard on my right wing, tearing the harpoon out of the hunter’s hands. The man holding my harpoon let go, stumbling backward, no doubt in fear that I would spray him with fire next. I wouldn’t be able to fly now, not with a broken wing and busted ribs—but holy shit I could breathe fire! Little did these jerks know, I had no idea how to replicate that, or if it could be done back to back, but it seemed like the odds had turned in my favor.

Best to keep that information to myself and let them think I was a fire-breathing badass.

Turning, I planned to continue running, when one of the hunters stepped in front of my path with a huge rock in his hands. His hair was half burned and his face was red and shiny with fresh blisters, but the hatred in his eyes were what had me nervous.

Oops, I pissed him off.

I barely moved my head out of the way in time, and the rock he held crashed down on my injured wing. I let out a shriek that must have been heard for miles. The neighbors would no doubt be coming out of their cabins to find out what sounded like ten cats being tortured. Dragon screeches were a unique sound.

Mother Fricker…

Pain exploded in my shoulder and I realized I had no idea how to fight in this dragon body. Not that I was a prizefighter in my human form, but I could certainly knee these bastards in the balls. As a dragon, I didn’t have arms to punch, didn’t have legs to kick. I only had four clawed stumps that didn’t work as well as arms and legs. I had fire that wasn’t working right now and a busted wing. I was screwed. If this was some really long paranoid delusion, now would be the time for it to stop.

As the hunter advanced on me, my thoughts went dark. Maybe I should just let them kill me, or take me, or drain me, or whatever it was they were trying to do. I was sick of running. My great idea for graduation was to hike the Grand Canyon by myself for five days and this is where it had got me—on the run, and ten minutes from being dead. Ever since the Grand Canyon, I hadn’t slept more than two hours a night without jerking awake from nightmares or paranoia that they were coming for me. I hadn’t eaten much, and didn’t have proper clothes because mine kept tearing when I transformed; I had to steal them when I shifted back.

I had nine dollars in my bank account, no job, and no one I could turn to. This was some messed up weird life I was living and I didn’t even know how it happened. One fall. One fall and I thought I was done for, splat on the rocks; people would read about it in the news. But no, my body … transformed … and this was my life now.

The hunter took two steps forward and I took one step back, looking over my shoulder. Great. I was surrounded. Since when did fire not kill people? Damn snow. The thought did strike me that these guys were un-killable, that they were somehow not human, but I let it go to the deep dark place where I kept those freaky thoughts and told it to stay there.

Just when I had resolved to roll over and let them have me, a pack of … animals … appeared out of the trees not twenty feet from me. I blinked my eyes rapidly; I couldn’t process what I was seeing—a lion, a coyote, a wolf, and a red fox were walking towards me—creeping out in a slow, stalking type of walk, fanning out in a formation that looked choreographed. What the ever-loving hell…? The circus had arrived. I had officially lost it.

If I were a human, I would have barked out in laughter, but in my dragon form a weird snort came out. Running up behind the animals was a tall guy in his mid-twenties with black hair, scruffy stubble, and piercing green eyes. I could feel the heat of his gaze from here. His face was covered in shock as his eyes roamed over my red dragon. Great. The bearded guy had a shotgun in one hand and I wondered who he wanted to shoot first—the circus animals trespassing his property, the weird bleeding dragon, or the hunters with glowing red knives? By the way he was looking at me, it was probably me that would take the first bullet.

Even though I was an eight-foot-tall fire-breathing dragon, I was still a twenty-one-year-old girl inside, and those wild animals stalking slowly towards made me freeze in fear. It was perfect, really. I get killed by human hunters only to have my remains be eaten by a freaking lion. I must have done something really crappy in a past life to deserve this.

The hunter nearest me spun away, facing the animals with his harpoon raised. “We don’t want trouble with your kind. Get out of here!” the hunter yelled, and my vision began to blur. Was he talking to them? Trying to reason with wild animals was even crazier than breathing fire.