He didn’t wish for a hobo. Not exactly, at least. Sydney didn’t consciously wish for anything. But deep down, he wanted what anyone wants: Love. Back in his old life, just wanting something was normally not enough. You had to work for it, hunt it down, convince it to want you too. But here, things were different. Things were guided more by the necessity of the journey than the destination. So Sydney floated on down the path without realizing what he had set himself up for.
He’d made it only about 25 yards before the first consequence showed up.
Something large and scaley blocked the path.
There seemed to be no other way around. And looking back, Sydney discovered that there was no path back, the copse of trees had closed over it and erased all traces.
He had no choice but to confront the thing that blocked his path.
He bravely walked up to it, and realized it was a head.
It just blinked at him, slowly.
“What are you and why are you here?”
“I should ask you the same question.” It’s voice was deep and resonant, with a hint of smokiness. Or perhaps more than just a hint, as a wisp of smoke escaped from a nostril.
“I was walking to the town, but this path was more interesting. Also, there was a frog that gave bad advice.” Sydney wondered why he was taking this so calmly. The head blocking the path was enormous, and there were fangs nearly as long as he was tall. And yet, he was just standing here, close. Too close.
“Don’t worry little morsel. I’ve already eaten this week. I’m happy to chat and not eat you. Today, at least.”
“I wasn’t worried.” He was. “I’ll stay and chat.” Like he had a choice. “Do you eat people often?”
“No, not really. Honestly, you would be my first, if I ate you.” Its head moved a little and Sydney got a look down its throat as it yawned. “But I don’t want to eat you. Is that why you sought me out? To be eaten?”
“No! I had no idea you were here. The path just seemed more interesting.”
“The interesting thing is that you saw my path at all. Most just walk past it without noticing.”
“Oh. There was that frog…”
“Ah, yes. You mentioned it. You’ve been marked by a Trickster. That never ends quite as anyone expects.”
“Perhaps introductions are a good idea. I’m Sydney. I’m from Los Angeles and I have no idea how I got here or where I am.”
“Nice to meet you Sydney. You couldn’t pronounce my name, but you can call me Gwen. You’ve walked directly to my front porch, and ignored all of the little tricks that should have discouraged you or distracted you. You reek of Trickster influence, so I suspect we will become friends in time.”
Sydney looked around, but didn’t see anything that resembled a porch. Unless it was under that hillside just beyond Gwen’s head. A hillside that he suddenly realized was breathing. He reassessed his sense of scale.
“You. You’re a dragon!”
“Well, yes. I suppose I am. And you are not precisely the barbarian you appear to be. Wherever this Los Angeles place is, it must be far away as I’ve never heard the name before, so you are likely the victim of a Trickster’s trap. My advice, which is likely better than that of a frog, is to accept what you can’t change. You are here. I am here. So please join me in my garden for tea.”
“I would be pleased, but where…”
“Just along the path and around the mound. I will join you there presently.”
With that, Gwen drew her head back and vanished into an opening that he hadn’t seen before. With her out of the way, the path was clear and led around to a pleasant formal garden with orderly plantings and a table set for two.
Sydney had no wish to offend anything that much bigger, so he picked a seat with a nice view of the countryside spread out beyond the hedge maze. He wondered how Gwen would fit along the garden paths, which were too narrow for her dragon, and he contemplated how little he knew about this world. Back home he would have been terrified at finding a dragon in an alley. But here, it seemed to be normal, but he didn’t know if his experiences so far were even close to normal either.
With a sound almost exactly like a large bird landing and folding its wings, he realized he was no longer alone in the garden. The young woman let her skirts swish (perhaps that was what he’d heard) as she walked past him and settled down in the other chair. They sat in silence, enjoying the view.
Just then Sydney realized that he’d seen her eyes only a few minutes earlier. And they were a lot bigger then.
Gwen smiled at him, and lit a cigar just by blowing on the end.