She gave the dragon equivalent of a shrug. "If I can fool four grown men into believing that they're chasing the grand-daddy of all herbivores, I can fool one human into thinking that I'm something I'm not." Her mental voice had taken on a decidedly arrogant tone. "Just show me where I'm to go, and who I have to find."
I stopped feeling so cheerful. "How do I do that? The first part is easy, but who?"
"Show me where to go. Just picture it," I was commanded.
I closed my eyes and pictured a map. I was here, and....
"I can't read maps, stupid creature," came the scornful reply. "Really, you're no better than they are," she sneered.
I sighed and started again. I was here. I imagined my current position, and traced my way back to my camp.
"That I've figured out. How do I get to another human?"
I tried again. That, too, was met with scorn. "Relax! Don't you know anything?" she complained.
"Well, if you'd stop badgering me..." I said sharply. Badger! That's it! My mind tends to go off on odd trips of its own, but this time I think it was worth it. "You mean, like hypnosis? A trance?"
I felt her scrabbling around in my mind for the definition. It felt odd, but not really all that scary. I let her 'see' my memories of videotaping a hypnotist a few years back.
She winced. "Well, if that's the best you can do...."
"Okay. Give me a minute to remember the rest of that show." I took a few deep breaths and thought. I tried to picture the surroundings of that time, tried to imagine that I was there again. What was it that he'd said?
The world faded out with a snap, but I wasn't in the bar, taking videos, or in the cabin, having my lungs clogged with dirt from the floor and my hands turned blue from lack of circulation. I was over the lake, floating in the air.
I could see the lake and the trees, but everything was fuzzy and slightly out of perspective.
"Where to, now?" a voice whispered.
Suddenly, I was winging my way over the water. I was flying at dream speed!
"Not quite," a voice said smugly. "But close."
The trees along the banks blurred by, dizzyingly. It took a few harrowing minutes, several of them spent avoiding trees that suddenly appeared because I hadn't anticipated a bend in the river, but I soon got the hanging of navigating my memories. Things look a little different when you're going backwards over water that you had previously traveled on.
It didn't take long to travel back to my memories of the canoe rental place. I could imagine the faded wood building, the water lapping against the dock, the occasional sound of an outboard motor. I imagined myself perching on the roof of the canoe rental office, taking a long look around.
I spied a building snuggled up against a stand of trees, almost hidden in their shadow. Yes! The park had a summer office here! It was a little too early in the season for the dedicated campers and hikers, but maybe....
I glided over to the open window. I'm not sure how I knew that the window was open before I got there. I just did.
I sat on the sill, looking in. I could feel my tail curl around my feet, very much like a cat would sit. A map was pinned to the opposite wall, surrounded by a set of mug shots. A large metal desk was underneath. 'Now, don't those uglies look familiar,' I thought.
"Hmmm, they do, don't they?" she purred in amusement.
The crash of china startled me. Looking toward the sound, I saw the park warden, still pouring coffee into the cup that he'd just dropped, and staring at me.
My situation came back with a thump. How was I to get my message across to the warden? I found myself uncurling, and jumping down onto the floor of the room. It felt strange to be walking, but it seemed to be the thing to do. I felt awkward, ungainly, and worse, inelegant.
I heard the sound of claws striking the linoleum. My claws. An idea was born. Now to find a drum....
My gaze traveled over the spartan furnishings of the office, a table with a coffee-maker and other paraphernalia, a bookshelf, packed with pamphlets and books, and... and the metal desk!
I waddled over to the side of the desk and gave it an experimental tap. It thundered resoundingly. My jaw opened in a pleased grin. I tapped sharply, three times. I stared at the warden, who was still staring at me.
I tapped three more times, longer, flatter sounds. And again, I stared at the warden. Would he figure it out?
I tapped the third set of the pattern, and waited.
The warden slowly moved toward me. He tried to scratch his head with the hand that still held the coffee pot. I tried not to laugh, as he muttered an oath, and put the pot down on the floor, squatting down next to it.
I stared at him, and repeated the sequence of taps. And stared again.
He suddenly shook his head as if coming out of a dream. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "A dragon!" he whispered finally.
I nodded and tapped the sequence more forcefully.
He snorted in disbelief. "A dragon that knows Morse Code! Now I know I need a vacation!"
I gave the desk three resounding bangs. And repeated the sequence for "S.O.S."
"Are they all this stupid?" a voice asked curiously.
I sighed. Okay, plan B. This extrapolation wasn't going to work. My subconscious obviously knew that. I'd have to think of another way to get someone's attention.
"What else could you tell him, using this code?" the voice asked.
"I only know about half the alphabet," I answered.
"Try something else."
I shrugged. "Okay." I tapped out the sequence that was my name. The man's eyes widened in recognition.
"Again," he ordered. I obliged. He repeated the letters, and sounded out my name. I nodded.
I tapped out the sequence for "deer". He nodded. Then my gaze fell on the map, and its surrounding literature. The pictures!
I backed up, and leapt to the top of the desk. Thankfully, his desk wasn't as crowded with junk as mine usually is. I reached up toward the map.
"Okay," he said slowly, moving toward the desk. "We just had a camper by that name go out. Are you trying to tell me that something's wrong?"
I nodded vehemently.
"And you know where she is?"
Again, I nodded.
I studied the map, trying to get my bearings. The warden moved to the side of the desk. "We're right here," he pointed, "if that helps any."
I reached up and then snorted in disgust. He was pointing to a place outside my reach.
"He does believe, you know," the voice in my head observed.
Figuring I had nothing to lose, I walked closer. He put out his arm, as if he were about to receive a falcon. I jumped up, wobbling slightly. I could feel wings spread for balance, but that didn't surprise me. It did him and he flinched.
I dug my claws into his arm, reflexively. He grunted, but steadied his arm.
I stared at the map. 'Let's see,' I thought, 'the river came north and then twisted .... so that would be about here, and then....' My snout was following my mental directions. After a few more seconds, I thought I'd found the right spot, and I put my claw on it.
"There?" the warden questioned. "But there's nothing there, but...." his voice trailed off. "But an old outfitter's shack," he continued after a minute. "Is that where she is?"
"And she's in trouble?"
I glanced back at the map. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar face. It was the man who'd found me in the tree! I grinned to myself, and reached across to the poster.
"He's there, too?" came the startled question.
I nodded, and began searching for the other members of the cadre.
He chuckled. "Well," he said, "no one would believe me if I said that a park visitor was in trouble and a dragon told me so. But, what could it hurt to check out an old blind?"
"The illusion has worn off," I was suddenly informed, and a blinding pain engulfed me.