THE DRAGON & THE SCORPION: New Short Fiction by Shantha Chinniah

The Dragon and the Scorpion

Just breathe, daughter. You go too fast, you’ll lose who you are. Ttsss. What a waste.

Late getting home again, we see. You keep busy and you do not listen to the world around you. There will be a time for forgetting but you need to awake now.

When we were your age, these dark skies would have been a happening, something to halt our rhythms, to shiver wariness in our flesh. You were born to storms, a pattern woven through your time. So as you don’t even notice. Things have been deep wrong for a long time. Be careful, young shoot.

Then again, maybe you are starting to notice, somewhere hidden in you, a personal secret. You took us out, after all.

We felt, many times before, that you wanted rid of us, that our presence was troubling you. An unwelcome inheritance. You are not the only one, ties are burdens as well as blessings. We are in you anyway, maybe that’s what you wished to erase. Your mother-line. Erase what the bodies you surround yourself with do not value. To their eyes, the imprints we have left on your flesh cause shame. They drink greedily from the poison of scorpion. We are bigger and longer than them. Stronger.

But you kept us. We were sure you would, though your thirty-seventh birthday was a close one. We had to use all our potency to change your mind. Do you remember child, that you noticed your grandmama’s fingerprint, a negative of grease on the black glass of our carved body? You must have sensed our life, even when you had put us in your clothes cupboard, left with oddments in that paper box, as if a nothing. Only you didn’t call, so we slumbered. We wove our dreamland—the feel of our soil and the movements imprinted through time in our limbs—with your dreams.

Over the dry grass hangs the threat of burning. The dragon line is used to the heat, it incubates her young, daunts her enemies. In some times, dragon is awake with a hunter’s intensity. In some times, dragon sleeps deeply, charged through the heat of the land. She waits for the twigs on the tree who hear her roar, who are open to her voice. Her tail twitches, disturbing the red soil in puffs, as she senses the call. Power surges reanimate the scales, mutating them from blue-grey to blood. This wakening is woven with threat. Her nostrils widen with anticipation of the fight.

We keep calling you. We are dragon. All of your mothers are in my body and we are big with power. This is your power, child.

Dear one. You are crying so still. Wake up! Are you hiding your pain from yourself? Or that plastic food in your hands? You are stuck in helpless. You don’t notice your own body, your lifeforce. You forget we are dragon people. And what use is that.

What changed when you took us out, put us on your shelf? You were angry with that one, the bad one. We were glad, a burning in your belly at last. We have seen all kinds of love, all kinds of men. This is not love, he is moving against you. Is this what you felt when you broke into our half-sleep, lifted the box lid and rooted for our form, worn and vivid in your palms. You moved his picture of his mother to enshrine us, instead, on the shelf. We claimed room for you.

His mother, who wished you ill from the first she heard who you were. This is why your grandmama chose you to be our next keeper. To ward against the evil they meant our people, their meanness and fear. You hated the reflection his mother gave you of yourself, yet you tried to make yourself in their image. Tried so hard, I know, I know it. Deaf to our voice. Before you rebelled. You know now, you were in our image all along.

You shiver like prey when you hear that one outside the dwelling. He is thin as a leaf ripped by storm winds. We could make him suffer, if you wished it.

You are battling again, a war from your throats. What is the rumble for this moment? Ah, you know the swells are coming, the sea is a perilous neighbour when it is in this mood. He, is dumb to it, will not move to safety. And what of it? You need not merge with this one. Malice sneaks into a weak vessel. An easy tool for scorpion. Again, you cry. We know you yearn for the comfort of embrace.

Community. We do not lie to you, the web of others is not always kind. The gift of insight in our line has made us leaders. Other times, amongst the envious, it made us a focus of bad feeling. You have to protect against the Evil Eye. And yet. We have lasted through many times— as the earth turns, and turns, and itches at her treatment— little is new to us. And yet. You are apart from others, more alone. You have no people. A new tree exposed in a field of devastation. That will not protect you from what’s to come.

In the dark of your night, we brood on our battle. You journey along our time-place as you sleep.

As the great dragonhead stirs on her parched bed, one enemy remains undaunted. His poison has been waiting too, soon it will be deployed. Cunning is the bosom fire of the bitter-riddled. Scorpion has laid his plans over many incarnations, observing, learning from his long failures. His vessel has been chosen to exploit the passion in dragon blood. He ripples with the promise of consummation of his plot, alert ever to the movements of dragon. His tail curved, ready. The dry wind swirls over the crackled grass, igniting a field of wicks.

Ah, you are awake child. Sweat all escaping your skin. You can hear that one from afar. He doesn’t know it yet, keep it that way. He is in your living space, using his instrument to talk to his kind. He should not dare to do such betrayal looking at me. You know what he says. We feel you outside the door, your heart pumping terrible hard. He has reported you to the enemies who play at gods. You are his sacrifice, daughter, he feeds his greed by robbing your future. Ever has it been, the blindest are so bold. You shake, but you knew, deep inside you. Because we knew. We smelt his venom. Draw up your wisdom now, budling, you must shake his deception. Lie low until it is time. It can be done. That’s right, pretending, back at sleep. He sees you and crows in his throat at his victory. We have seen so many like him. So many.

You notice the colour of the dawn, we see. A storm is coming. An earth-heaver. That one has only just noticed you are gone. You did well. See what is possible when you join with us in you? You packed little, in the dark brooding of early morning, as we kept him in dreams. Yet you took us, of course. We lie against the rhythms of your back and feel your urgency through the fibres between us. You are right to put us in good distance from that den. You fear the human forces he put on you, yet more besides. Sea has an anger such as we have never known. He cannot escape it.

Ah, the high ground, and what survives of Old Forest. This land is seas away from where we took deep roots, deep in time. It matters not. Our land is held in my body, is in you. There dragon sleeps and pulses through us. What is that you have picked? A tree nut. You collected them with your mother, she took you here, moons ago. We feel you remember. These are different tears now. She is here, too, with you. We carry her inside us.

Keep going now, young one, we will keep on.

Scorpion is quick to forget. Dragon’s eyes say sleep, but they are not to be trusted. Scorpion scurries to the great serpent, poison tip pregnant. He is intoxicated with his final triumph, dancing a curve of mockery before the immensity of dragon’s dormant head. He has a beat to realise his folly. The flame-blast sears and shoots him back with the force of the weapon it is. Scorpion flies, charred, far into the boiling waves. Dragon’s eyes are open. She is awake. 

About the author

Shantha_Author Photo - 10 July 2023 2

Shantha Chinniah is an Edinburgh born and based writer who has recently completed an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, awarded with distinction. She also enjoys illustration and cartooning.

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is a review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow.

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