Title: Dragons Walk Among Us
Author: Dan Rice
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Shutterbug Allison Lee is trying to survive high school while suffering the popular girl's abuse. Her life is often abysmal, but at least her green hair is savage. Her talent for photography is recognized by the school paper and the judges of a photo contest.
While visiting her friend Joe, a homeless vet, Allison's life irrevocably changes after an attack leaves her blind. All her dreams as a photojournalist are dashed as she realizes she'll never see again. Despair sets in until she is offered an experimental procedure to restore her vision. But there are side effects, or are they hallucinations? She now sees dragons accompanying some of the people she meets. Can she trust her eyes, or has the procedure affected her more than she can see?
A steady beeping drags me into consciousness. My head is gripped by a pounding headache, and I’m stiff as a mummy. A groan escapes my dry lips.
“Allison, thank God! You’re awake.”
“Daddy.” The word comes out as a croaked whisper that burns my dry throat.
“I’m right here, baby. I’m right here.”
His warm hand takes mine. I’m with my dad. I try to open my eyes, but my head is locked in a tightening vise. The effort only makes my head hurt more.
“Allison, can you hear me?”
I don’t recognize the voice. It’s distant, fading, as muddled as my mind feels. I’m just so tired.
An oddly familiar beeping wakes me. I shift my cramped body. Ouch. Moving makes me feel like I’m slamming my head against a brick wall. Ugh. I’m lying down on a soft, cushy surface. Fabric covers me. Bedsheets? I’m in bed? How in the world did I end up in bed?
I draw in a deep breath, and my eyes flutter, never quite fully opening. A harsh scent hangs in the air like the antiseptic odor of a recently cleaned high school bathroom. Where the hell am I?
My eyes blink open, only something isn’t right. I don’t see anything.
“Help,” I say, sounding like I’m speaking with a mouthful of toffee.
I try to stay calm, but my body is reacting. Pulse reverberating. Breathing rapid. I’m so hot underneath the sheet I want to tear it aside.
I raise my voice. “Help!”
Fear slams into my brain like a baseball bat. My eyes are wide open, but all I see is the most intense darkness I’ve ever known. Absolute black.
“What? Allison, you’re awake. Thank goodness. I was really worried when you woke up, then drifted off right away,” Dad says groggily.
“Daddy, I can’t see.”
“What? Can’t see?” Dad says. I can hear his shoes tapping against the floor. A hand touches my wrist, fingers cold yet comforting. “Don’t worry. A nurse will be here any minute. I’m sure the doctor will be called.”
“Why can’t I see?”
He enfolds my wrist. “Allison, you were hit on the head. I’m so glad you’re awake.”
My stomach clenches into an icy knot. “Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital.”
“Are you serious?”
I hear a door slide open and heavy footsteps against the floor.
“Thank goodness. It’s the nurse,” Dad says.
“Hello, Allison. My name is James, and I’m your—”
“I can’t see!”
“Do you notice any light or shadows?” Dr. Clarissa Maywood asks.
“How many times do I have to answer that idiotic question?” I say through clenched teeth.
Dad massages the back of my hand. “Allison, don’t be so waspish. Dr. Maywood is here to help you.”
I groan. “I’m sorry that waking up blind in a strange bed after a two-week coma has put me in such a wonderful mood.”
“I know it is frustrating, Allison. It is not unheard of to have vision problems after taking a blow to the head,” Dr. Maywood says. Her voice is calm, and her words are clipped. “Now, can you answer my question?”
“I can’t see anything.”
Something about Dr. Maywood is annoying. My image of her is of a tall, beautiful blonde woman much like Leslie Chapman. I don’t know why—maybe it’s the click of the high heels against the linoleum?
“Is there anything you can do?” Dad asks.
“I am going to order some tests,” Dr. Maywood says. “And we will go from there.”
I listen to her walk away, feeling like I am drowning, my fingers slipping from the life preserver.
Dad pats the back of my hand. “Just hang in there, baby. Just hang in there.”
I pull my hand away. “Just hang in there? I’m blind. I’ll never be a photojournalist. Never. My life is ruined.”
“I know it’s hard, baby, but you need to try to stay positive. I think that’s for the best.”
Stay positive. Easy for him to say. He can see. Why can’t I see? I’m still trying to put that together, but there are too many missing pieces.
“Dad, what happened? Dr. Maywood said I took a blow to the head, but I don’t remember any of that.”
Dad takes a deep breath. “You were attacked on the university grounds.”
“I...I remember taking soup to Joe,” I say. Did I give the soup to Joe? I try to remember, but that only makes my head hurt more.
“Someone hit you with something against the side of your head. Maybe a lead pipe or some kind of cudgel. The police aren’t certain. You’re lucky to be alive. If it wasn’t for Joe...he heard your scream. He stopped the attack. Then he called the police, using your phone.”
I try to recall the attack. I can’t. My head feels like it’s being used as a bongo drum.
“What’s wrong? Your head?”
“Try to clear your mind. The doctor said you might have severe headaches, especially if you spend too much time deep in thought.”
He takes my hand again.
I squeeze his hand in return. “Thanks for being here, Dad.”
“You’ll get better,” he says. “You’ll get better.”
I try to quiet my mind, but I want to remember what happened to me. I need to know why I’m broken.
I don’t know how much time has passed when I hear the nurse’s voice, James I think he said his name is.
“Allison. Mr. Lee. We’re going to run some tests now.”
Casters roll across the linoleum.
“Can I stay?” Dad asks.
“Sure you can,” James says. “We just need to slide in next to Allison.”
“Dad, please don’t go,” I say.
“Don’t worry, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”
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Dan has wanted to write novels since first reading Frank Herbert’s Dune at the age of eleven. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he often goes hiking with his family through mist-shrouded forests and along alpine trails with expansive views.
Dragons Walk Among Us is his debut novel. He is currently working on the sequel to Dragons Walk Among. You can explore his blog at https://www.danscifi.com.
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