Image of three tarot-style cards featuring a dragon and a black girl with the text "Magical Realism"; a frog against a dark sky with a crescent moon with the word "Losing Control"; an image of a the four of coins tarot card with the word "Incognito".

Going In-cog-ni-to

Genre / Subject / Word

Magical Realism / Losing Control / Incognito

Eleven year-old Stefi sat on the floor of the maintenance closet with a grunt of frustration. She hid here to be alone when classroom chaos pushed her to the edge.

Today, though, she heard a snort! from the other side of some shelves. Who…? Stefi saw a flash of rainbow colors, and a soft rustling sound became the clacking of metallic scales.

Dragon scales.

“Please don’t report me to the Wyrm Watchers!” begged a tiny voice.

“Why would I report you?”

“I don’t know, “ The voice replied. “People make up reasons to report us.”

I feel that, thought Stefi, eyeing the change in skin color as she flipped her hand from back to front. “You’re in third grade, right? I recognize your voice but don’t remember your name.”

“I’m Regina,” the voice replied. “Are you in fourth grade?”

“Nope, fifth.” The din from class had faded from her mind sooner than Stefi expected. She wondered if Regina had mental powers, like some dragons did. Then she felt bad for thinking the poor wyrmling was messing with her. “I’m Stefi. I come here sometimes when it’s too loud in class.”

“Me, too!” Regina said. “Sometimes when everyone’s talking and it’s crazy, I feel like I might transform by accident and scare everybody.”

“Wow,” Stefi said. “I don’t turn into a dragon or anything, but when class gets too loud I sometimes cry or yell at people, and that’s when I get reported.”

“That sucks.” After an awkward moment, Regina continued, “My family, we’re not fire-spitters, so we’re not dangerous, right? But people just assume we are and report us. And I know it’s not funny, but when Wyrm Registration comes to check us out and my parents transform for them, I just laugh, ’cause the looks on their faces are so…”

Regina’s toothy maw gaped as she rolled her eyes and waved her hands in imitation of a screaming human. Stefi laughed as she took a deep, easy breath for the first time that morning. “That’s funny! I never thought about how we looked to you.”

“Mom says we gotta go in-cog-ni-to, cause if humans get too scared they might extinct us.” The mood shifted perceptibly. “I don’t even know what in-cog-ni-to means.”

“It means hiding who you are.” Stefi said. “I do that, too. Dr. Clark says when I try to fit in with people who aren’t Autistic like me, it’s like I wear a mask to be somebody else.”

“Yeah…like pretending to be a whole other you.”

“I guess I mostly pretend to be like my sister, because she’s so popular and everything,” Stefi said. “So all her friends call me ‘Mini-Jo’.” She paused to peek through the shelves and saw Regina listening attentively. “Her name is Jordyn, so that’s why they call me ‘Mini-Jo’. They all think it’s pretty funny.” They sat in companionable silence a minute, before Regina whispered, “Wanna see me change?”

“Sure!” Stefi eagerly approached the shelves.

“You can’t tell anyone about this, though,” Regina said as she stood up. “Promise?”

“Promise!” Stefi extended her hand through the shelves, holding out her pinkie towards her new friend. Regina extended her tiniest clawed digit, hooked it around Stefi’s, and began to transform.

This story made it to the "Elite Eight" in the Magical Realism genre of the May 2023 Writing Battle.

Copyright 2023 by Melani Weber