The great bell of lunchtime rings as they all rush past the door in a frenzied flurry, each student vying for first place in the great race to the cafeteria. Well, all except me.
I just walk casually, enjoying the empty hallways of Metropolitanville High School all to myself. I’m not necessarily hungry.
The sound of chatter in the cafeteria is drowned out by my thoughts.
What kind of thoughts?
The thoughts of my… Gift. When can I not think about it? It consumes every waking thought, and even some of my asleep ones, too. Dreams, I mean.
Mama calls it a gift, a special ability that God gave me, for some meaningful, purposeful reason. I did receive it once I finished reading the Bible… Still, I think it’s merely a coincidence.
Papa, however, refuses to talk about it. I to this day do not know why. Is he worried about me? Or is he hiding something that I would not yet understand?
In a normal situation, I’d shake the thoughts off, but while I’m here, alone with my thoughts, I’d might as well give my mind some liberty.
I look down at the ground. I usually tell most people it is a disorder. I call it SDD. It sounds like any other crazy acronym for a disorder, and most people I talk to usually don’t care to know what it stands for. All they know is I’m some disabled kid, and that’s all I’d care to tell them anyway.
SDD, however, is not some acronym for some incredibly long words like schistosomiasis dapocaginous dactylomegaly. Yes, those are real words. What they mean, I have no clue.
But SDD really stands for Souffle du Dragon. It’s French for “dragon’s breath”, or “breath of the dragon”.
And that’s because that is my ability. Call it a gift, call it a disability - call it what you like. But when I breathe a certain way, almost in a hissing manner… Fire dances its way out of my mouth, and consumes whatever’s in front of me. Mama calls it a blessing.
I call it a curse.
A voice snaps me out of my thoughts. “Come on, pick a meal. Don’t back up the line behind you.”
I glance up and meet the woman’s gaze. She is a part of the staff at the school. I look behind me and notice a line behind me. I’m in the cafeteria? Oh. Okay, then. Might as well pick a meal… Wait, how did I get here?
“Oh. Sorry,” I mutter quietly, still trying to understand what my body did while my mind took a coffee break. I pick up a plate and scoop some dry Macaroni & Cheese and a croissant onto my plate. As mediocre as most of the food is here, I do love the croissants - they remind me of home.
I maneuver my way over to an empty table and sit down, about to take a bite of the dry Macaroni & Cheese, when I hear a sneering male voice next to me. “Look who it is! Dragon-Girl!”
I don’t even have to look at him to know who that is. Daniel Arrowe, one of my former friends and now new nemesis at school - sort of a bully, in a way. Bullies seem to be overestimated in literature and film - all Arrowe is, is just an annoying boy who found out about my powers and has been rude to me ever since. Publicly rude.
“Allez-vous en,” I mutter.
“Sorry, what was that?” Arrowe asks.
“I said go away,” I reply sharply.
“Ohhh, okay,” Arrowe says. “Couldn’t understand your French.”
I turn to get a good look at him, and the two boys standing alongside him, arms folded and in a stance like a team of supervillains. And Daniel Arrowe is their supervillain leader.
Arrowe’s normally brown hair is dyed a fluorescent - and sickly - blond, and his dull brown eyes meet my gaze. His grin is of a sadistic nature - morbid, in a way.
“What do you want, Arrowe?” I ask, raising my voice more.
“Ooh, last name basis, huh?” Arrowe says with a laugh. “Well, Devereaux, why don’t you prove to everyone that you’re a freak?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Bonne chance avec ça.” I smirk coldly at Arrowe’s now confused face. “What’s wrong, Arrowe? Haven’t been taking your French lessons as much as you should?”
One of Arrowe’s sidekicks speaks up. “It means ‘good luck with that,’” he explains, looking at Daniel.
Arrowe nods, and returns to his usual grin. “Would you mind speaking English for our lovely little conversation?”
Oh, please. It isn’t lovely.
I sigh. “Daniel, what do you want?”
“I just want the world to see who you are, sweetheart,” he says coldly and sarcastically. “Or at least this school, for starters.”
I nearly hiss at him, but I know what damage that could cause. “Call me sweetheart again, and I’ll–”
“Do what? Breathe at me with your fire?” he interrupts. He makes a shrugging gesture. “By all means! Go ahead, sweetheart.”
I fight the urge to breathe fire at him with all my might. Be nice to him, Nolana. Just be nice. Isn’t that how we Christians do it? Be… Nice… To other… People…? Even if they’re not… Nice… To us…? Ay, that makes no logical sense at all.
But that is what the Bible says, oui?
Fine, morals win this match.
After many an urge to breathe him to smithereens, I just grit my teeth and stare at him coldly.
“Aww, look,” he says to his friends. “She’s trying to be nice. What an epic fail.” The other two laugh, each sharp giggle piercing my heart like a pointy stick.
I find myself opening my mouth. No, no, NO! No fire, Devereaux, NO FIRE!!! PAS DE FEU!
Arrowe whispers something to his friends, and they step away. Arrowe opens his arms wide. “Come and get me! Breathe fire, Dracaena! DO IT!”
I know it’s his plan. I know he just wants to see me reveal my ability to everyone in the school, and quite possibly everyone watching TV at this hour, once the news anchors come in. I know this is his plot. And so… I…
Open my mouth wider.
Wait, WHAT?! Stop it, Devereaux! No, no, no, no!
Dragon breath - activated. My cover is blown. I am no longer in hiding. No one is going to miss this.
I am so sorry, Mama and Papa.
Thunderous fire crackles and roars as flames release from my mouth. With a frantic but somehow knowing expression, Daniel Arrowe ducks quickly, and I end up setting fire to the window. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
After I suck in several more breaths and fire is no longer coming out from my mouth, Arrowe climbs up onto a chair, and then a table. He has regained his confidence, and speaks to all that are watching intently with a wide grin. “This is Nolana Devereaux. And this is what she can do to people.” He gestures at the crackling, burning window. “She is dangerous. What she has told you that is just some disorder… It’s a lie. The real truth is this.” He gestures back at the window again. “This is Dracaena.”
My emotions are a scientist’s concoction of anger, embarrassment, sadness and confidence all at once. My anger rages at this boy. Who does he think he is to play me - to use me for his little game, and to show it to the whole school? My embarrassment forces me to duck my head low and close my eyes, so as not to see all the people now staring at me. My sadness guarantees that I will most certainly have no friends after this event. I might just get arrested.
But my confidence states to all, even if only in my thoughts, Let the burning ashes remind you of who I am. I am dangerous. I am deadly. I am Dracaena.