The white glow was a good thing. It meant that he was alive.
Outside it was dark, but as usual the weather was pleasant. There had been a run of that good weather this spring. There was barely a cloud in the star-speckled sky, yet the moon shone down on a very sad scene: a girl, standing in a hayshed beside the unconscious form of a mera she’d always seen as her little brother. All meras were seen as lesser than humans and used in degrading ways such as pets, slaves, and even prostitutes in the seedier parts of towns. But he had been her equal, only a pet on paper.
The girl’s chest and neck were bandaged, and her arm was in a sling. The hayshed was lit by the pale moonlight but also by the white glow coming from her brother.
She stared at him sadly, trying to remember all of his features because she knew she’d never see him again. His hair, a light ginger, fell to the tops of his wings normally but now it was spread out beside him. She remembered trying to brush it once, much to his chagrin. The memory brought a smile to her lips even as it made the loss so much worse. She’d only managed to comb it once he was unconscious, and even that had been a sorrowful moment. It was like making the hair look nice on a corpse.
He looked more like a dragon than anything else, curled up there with his wings kept safe beneath the clothes he wore. Hannah had dressed him in her clothes from day one, although he preferred shirts and pants or shorts to skirts or dresses. She supposed that it had something to do with his claws or his ‘manliness’ that he tried so hard to prove existed.
His hands were much like human hands only tipped with claws and his feet were the same, like human feet tipped with claws. They were also, as he’d demonstrated to her on more than one occasion, immune to heat. She thought that his whole body had this immunity, but she’d only ever seen him demonstrate it in pulling a tray of cookies out of the oven with his bare hands. She’d never be having any of those delicious home-baked goodies again.
Her blurry gaze ended up resting on his tail, protruding from a hole torn in his pants and wrapped around his wrist. He sometimes used to help her carry extra things with it, a memory that had her laughing softly.
His pink scales covered his entire body like dragon scales, only the scales were smaller and softer than the ones that had covered the dragons. Against her skin, they felt like her own skin.
Her gaze was at last drawn upwards to his face where the dragon features really came out, considering his nose and mouth were a snout lined on the inside with sharp teeth. He was such a gentle creature that the teeth had never been used for violence, except for just a few hours ago. She shooed that memory away before it could become her last one of him, instead remembering the way he’d played with her childhood friend’s mera. Poor Alin had been taken from his lover when his owner Maria had moved to China where her parents had a new job.
Hannah wished that she could see his eyes, those emerald-green eyes that were on his forehead at the end of his nose like human eyes but cat-like just as dragon eyes used to be. Such light and happiness had resided in them always, up until just hours ago. But she couldn’t remember that, she wouldn’t! Not now, not when she was essentially saying her final goodbyes.
On an impulse, Hannah bent down and ran her trembling fingers gently along one of Jaik’s leaf-shaped ears which reached his shoulders, hanging down on either side of his head beneath his hair. She’d been holding back tears but now they slipped free, dampening his hair but not waking him. He wouldn’t wake, not with that particular drug in his system. Every mera owner knew about and possessed a vial of the liquid that would put a mera to sleep for long enough to leave them in this hayshed if they attacked a human.
She’d never expected Jaik to snap, not when he was so kind and gentle. She’d remember him as that kind and gentle creature, the mera who’d never harm another living creature, not the monster he’d become. He still had blood on his hands and claws but she hadn’t had time to clean it off.
“Come on, Hannah, we have to go before the police arrive to take our statement. You know they’ll come here if we’re not home, and then...” her mother trailed off, but Hannah knew how that statement was going to end. She shuddered at the thought. Any rogue mera found by the police would be killed instantly. She had to finish saying her goodbyes before that happened.
“Goodbye, Jaik,” she whispered, kneeling down beside him and running a shaking hand over his hair. He was so warm. Almost sobbing, she curled up in the hay beside him and shook with the repressed sobs. She didn’t know how long she lay there, only that eventually her mother picked her up and carried her back to the car.
“I know he didn’t mean to hurt me,” she whimpered, staring out the windscreen at the road ahead once she’d calmed down enough to stop crying.
“I know, Hannah,” her mother nodded. “You treated him well, so I don’t know why he went rogue.”
“He was protecting me, he doesn’t deserve to be treated like a criminal,” Hannah sniffed.
“I’m about as upset over this as you are, Hannah”, her mother agreed, reaching across to rub her daughter’s shoulder. “But we had to follow the rules for rogues. And he’ll live a better life now, among his own kind.”
“I hope so,” Hannah said longingly. “I’ll miss him so much.”
“Maybe I can get you another mera,” her mother suggested.
“No,” Hannah decided. “Not unless we find another abandoned one. I only got Jaik because I found him. I don’t want one born in a breeding farm or whatever because I’ll feel bad about taking it away from its parents.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t want to adopt a mera,” her mother agreed. “If I find another abandoned one in a paddock, though, I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks, mum,” Hannah smiled sadly, and squeezed her mother’s hand.
Back at the hayshed where Jaik still lay, a light appeared apart from the one surrounding him. It looked like a solar light, and it appeared behind something coming out of a hole in the ground. The thing with the light approached the white glow coming from Jaik, revealing an older fire meress clad in a white leather dress.
The meress looked around for any humans and, seeing that it was safe, picked up Jaik and returned to the trapdoor. It shut behind her, cutting off the light. The night was once more still, the terrible task done. Jaik’s new life was about to begin.