‘What’s that?’ Rosie asked.
What?’ said mum, turning around.
‘There, that mark in the mud,’ said Rosie.
‘Looks like a dragon’s footprint to me,’ said mum, smiling.
‘Dragons don’t exist,’ Chloe said, sounding bored.
Mum flashed her a warning look. ‘Of course they do,’ she said.
‘I love dragons!’ squealed Rosie.
Chloe looked between mum and Rosie then shook her head. ‘OK, dragons are great, can we go home yet?’
‘Not until we’ve had a proper walk,’ said mum. ‘We could all do with some fresh air. Especially you.’ Mum took Rosie’s hand and began walking again.
‘Do you think there was really a dragon here, mum?’ asked Rosie.
‘What do you think it was doing?’
‘Hmmm,’ mum said, looking around. ‘Maybe it was trying to catch some fish for its dinner.’
‘Do dragons eat fish?’
‘Well, dragons are really big so I think they can eat whatever they like,’ said mum.
‘They really enjoy little girls,’ said Chloe. ‘They eat them for desert, with ice cream.’
Rosie began to cry.
‘Why did you do that?’ Mum said, angry.
‘I’m sorry, Rosie,’ said Chloe, feeling guilty for making her sister cry. ‘I was just joking, dragons don’t eat little girls. In fact, they like to let little girls ride on their backs. And bring them presents.’
‘Really?’ Rosie asked, her tears turning to sniffles.
Rosie talked about nothing but dragons for the rest of the day. She drew a picture of a dragon, insisted on watching a cartoon about dragons, and asked Chloe to tell her a story about a dragon at bedtime.
‘Why did you have to tell her it was a dragon’s footprint,’ Chloe complained, after Rosie was in bed.
‘Because it made her happy,’ said mum. ‘And it really did look like a great big footprint.’
‘But dragons are stupid.’
‘Because they aren’t real.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because no-one’s ever seen one.’
‘Have you ever seen air?’
‘No, but, but that’s different!’
‘How is it different?’
‘Air exists and dragons don’t!’
‘There are lots of ways for things to exist, Chloe. Dragons exist in folklore and myth and have an important role in some cultures. That makes them real in a way.’
‘They’re still stupid,’ Chloe muttered.
‘There’s nothing wrong with leaving a little room for magic in your life,’ said mum. ‘I hope you realise that some day.’
Chloe thought about what her mum had said while she brushed her teeth and got ready for bed. She didn’t really understand what mum was on about. How can there be more than one way for things to exist? Either something was objectively real or it wasn’t. There was no middle ground. Was there?
She shook her head. Her mum was an intelligent person, Chloe knew that. In fact, mum was probably the most intelligent person she knew. So how could she believe in something stupid like dragons and magic?
Chloe glanced out of the window as she pulled the curtains closed and then did a double-take. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again. It must have been a trick of the light. Whatever it was she had seen was gone now, the view just the normal mountain-scene that she saw every day from this window.
Chloe climbed into bed and turned off the lamp, but as she lay in bed, waiting for sleep, she couldn’t help but ponder the silhouette of massive wings that she had just seen, perched on top of the mountain at the other end of the loch.
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