One environmentalist who attended the Reclaim the Power this year was so inspired by the organising that he wrote a story for Reclaim the Power, which he read out at the camp:
Thank you Rob Holtom
The Dragon’s Breath
Not far from here, somewhere in between the countryside and the city, there is a village. It is a typical village, run down, gentrified, sprawling and small. There’s a stone church, an old well, a BP garage, a baker’s and on the edge, Tesco. It is a typical village.
But on the other side of the village there is a forest and this forest has been there for years. Long before the supermarket, long before Queen Elizabeth demanded all the trees be turned into ships and long before Harold Hardrada got an arrow in his neck. That forest has thrived, oak, ash, and elm, twisting and growing together, blocking the sun with their branches and trunks, but letting it back in through their leaves.
So meet Tommy, your typical ten year old of two thousand and fourteen. He likes throwing dirt at his mates, he likes watching ballet and he hates racists. But unlike most in the village he does not fear the forest, he does not fear its darkness and its secrets. He finds himself at home in amongst the trees. So off he goes, wandering, jumping and getting dirty knees, further than most, much much further actually until he comes to a clearing. He’s never spotted it before and he’s curious. He steps from behind a knarled oak and where he excepts to find a small glade full of meadow flowers he finds something else entirely.
What he finds is huge – a giant hill but not covered in grass, something quite different, something tough and dark green, turquoise and aquamarine, something that looks almost like scales. And this hill, this giant hill, how oddly it behaves he thinks because it breathes. Up and down, up and down the hummock rises and falls. And what’s that, a tail, a scaled tail with spikes. This is not your average hill. Slowly, slowly he creeps around its side and he finds the head. Brilliant, terrifying, like a crocodile has met a lion by way of the Sphinx. This, Tommy realises, is a dragon, and it’s sleeping, for now. Panic slaps him in the face and jellifies his legs, and quick he backtracks, back into the forest, all the way home.
“Mum, Mum, you’ll never guess what I’ve seen,” he shouted and he yelled.
“What’s that love,” she asked as she cut coupons from her newspaper.
“A dragon, in the forest, a dragon.”
She didn’t look at him and she didn’t stop cutting, but still from her malaise she managed, “Not now, Tommy.”
“But, but…” he began to protest but watching her slow progress he knew there was no point. So off he stropped into the back yard to kick molehills and play at Billy Elliot. “I did,” he hissed, “I did, I saw a dragon, in the forest.” He said it louder the next time and louder still, not knowing the new feeling he felt in his chest but there was something there, deep in his belly, a new sensation he could not name.
Now next door, in a far larger garden belonging to a far larger house than Tommy’s, lived Patricia. She has just your average housewife with voluminous hair tinted with purple, with a love of pruning roses and a quiet penchant for extra large cucumbers. And it just so happened as Tommy kicked at his third molehill that Patricia was pruning a rose on the other side of the wooden fence. “A dragon,” she whispered, “In the forest. It can’t be.” But the idea had taken root in her erratically moving mind and she climbed on top of the wheelbarrow so she could peer over the fence.
“What’s that you say young man?”
Tommy looked up in surprise at this flash of purple with mud smeared over its face.
“A dragon in the forest?”
“Oh yes, a big one, I saw it.”
“I wonder,” said Patricia, and she did wonder because not so long ago she had lost Tiddles, her favourite pooch, on the edge of the woods, and now, although she did not want to say it out loud, she assumed that this little boy had found her missing dog and mistaken him for a dragon.
So, she took off her gardening gloves and met Tommy outside the struggling Post Office and off they went, marching into the forest. Between elms, ashes, elders, past rowans, oaks and cedars, they went and they went, on and on, until Patricia was starting to get irritated. But just before she opened her mouth to complain Tommy let out a squeak.
“There it is,” he said, “The clearing.”
Patricia’s heart leapt, after all this time she would finally be reunited with Tiddles. But what she got, as she stepped beyond the trees, was not her dog but a very big shock. For there it slept, the dragon, each scale the size of a human hand, its body radiating heat like a furnace. Patricia could only but be alarmed, frozen stiff, but very hot, awed at the presence of this creature.
So quick they backtracked and back they went, Tommy to his Mum, and Patricia to her husband Bernard, who was sat at his desk tapping his memoirs and eating jam on toast.
“Bernard,” she enquired, worried to disturb his very important work.
“Yes Patricia,” he replied, not looking up.
“There’s something I need to tell you, something important.”
“Well be quick Patricia, I’m getting to part when I met Margaret Thatcher.”
“Yes, yes, of course, very important but Bernard, you see, I saw, in the forest, you see, I saw…”
“What did you see Patricia. Do be quick.”
“I saw a dragon.”
Bernard had not looked up from his Macbook Pro and nor was he about to, instead he kept tapping, and munching on toast. “Not now, Patricia,” was all he said, and for all intents and purposes his wife might as well have not been there.
She retreated as meekly as she had arrived and skulked back to her kitchen. She sat at the marble topped table and stirred a cup of Earl Grey tea, but she did not sip, for her stomach felt odd, there was a new sensation there, making itself at home, and she could not name it.
“A dragon,” she whispered, “I saw a dragon.” And she said it again, not doubting what she’d seen, and she said it again.
Now it just so happened that Lance, the window cleaner, just your average window cleaner – a big fan of football, into Marx not Derrida, and civilly partnered with John the baker – well, it just so happened he was cleaning the window’s of Patricia’s house that day and as he reached the kitchen windows, so Patricia reached her apex.
“A dragon,” he whispered, “In the forest. What a load of bollocks.” He chuckled to himself and then he thought he’d quite like a break actually and anything was better than Patricia’s milky tea.
“What’s that you say Pat, a dragon, in the forest?”
“Oh yes,” she started, looking up, “I saw it, I did.”
“Of course you did Pat, why don’t you show me.” He winked.
Patricia was delighted to be listened to, so she put her wellington boots back on and met Lance outside, and off they trotted to Tommy’s house and rang the doorbell. His mother answered in a semi-comatose state and didn’t stop to ponder why these people wanted to see her son. And, off they went, that intrepid trio, into the forest. Tommy led the way, followed by an eager Patricia and a sceptical Lance. Past bramble patches and stinging nettles, buttercups and wild garlic, on they went and on, until even Lance, who was usually up for a laugh, was on the verge of getting fed up. But just as he was about to complain they reached the verge they had been looking for.
“There it is,” Tommy piped, “The clearing.”
They crossed the threshold and Lance couldn’t believe his sceptical eyes, where he’d expected a punch line what he got was so much bigger, as big as a house, twice as hot, and breathing. He saw the spikes on the tails, like wooden stakes, and he could smell thousands of years of ancient age. Lance was gobsmacked, and then the creature moved, just a little, shifting in its sleep, dreaming perhaps.
So quick they backtracked and back they went, back to the village, and when they reached the village green, there stood a gaggle of people and at the front were three red faced individuals – Tommy’s Mum, a newspaper in her hand, Patricia’s husband Bernard, with jam on his fingers, and Reginald Bonx, a property developer and Lance’s next appointment.
“You’re late,” boomed Bonx, “I’ve got a good mind to fire you and go find another window cleaner.”
“Where the devil have you been Patricia?” huffed Reginald, “I want my afternoon tea.”
“Tommy,” scolded Tommy’s Mum, “I can’t believe you’d just disappear like that, I’m so disappointed.”
“But there’s a dragon, in the forest,” the trio said in unison.
“Don’t be daft,” cried the crowd, “How ridiculous,” they said, “That’s absurd,” “Are you mad?” “Nonsense,” “What have you been taking,” “Stupid,” “Don’t make me laugh.”
And so the little crowd of people launched their disbelief in volleys of abuse, and now Lance began to feel it too, that feeling at the bottom of his chest, a new sensation he could not name.
“Well, if you don’t believe us, we’ll show you.”
The crowd hummed and hared but eventually relented, each one with a different motive for discovering the truth. Tommy’s Mum hoped to put an end to her son’s silly games, Bernard hoped to have Patricia sanctioned, and Reginald Bonx wondered if this could finally be the excuse to get planning permission to build on the sight of the forest.
Off they trekked, through dappled shade and scented darkness, until finally they reached the clearing.
“Here we are,” said Tommy, his voice was grave, for despite everything he’d done he was still a little afraid, what if the dragon ate them all. Patricia heard his small voice falter and she took his hand, for she was frightened too, what if the dragon hadn’t ever been there at all, think of the laughter, think of her reputation. Lance saw the look in her eyes and he took her other hand, and even though he didn’t like to admit it, he was scared, caught somewhere in between an angry crowd and a sleeping dragon.
They crossed the threshold and the others followed and what they all got was a shock. There she stood, the dragon, in her all her splendour. Her wings, like the sails of ships stretched at full mast, her neck unfurled and elegant, like a swan’s, her eyes gleaming essonite, like ketchup, and her tail a force to be reckoned with, its spikes glinting in the sun.
“Here you are,” she smiled, her voice the sound of distant thunder, her voice the sound of an avalanche, “I wondered what the noise was, the noise that woke me, and now I know it was the tapping of your little feet.
“I beg your pardon,” blustered Reginald Bonx, shoving through to the front of the crowd, “But you can’t just sit here, in our wood, it’s, it’s just not cricket.”
“Oh,” she laughed, the sound of great cliffs cracking and falling apart, “It’s not cricket is it.”
“No, it’s most certainly not,” bumbled Reginald, Patricia’s husband, “You’re, you’re squatting, and that’s not on.”
She laughed again and even Tommy’s Mum ventured her opinion, “You can’t hide in our wood, you might eat our children.”
“Oh please,” the dragon said, the patience of millennia on her tongue, “I don’t want to eat humans, so scraggly and insipid. I’d much rather eat a dinosaur or an elephant. Although I did once eat a dog, I was really very hungry, and I am desperately sorry Patricia.”
“Oh well, these things happen,” said Pat, “You are a dragon after all.”
“Be quiet Patricia,” interrupted Bernard, “This just isn’t on.”
“It’s absurd,” said another, “It’s preposterous, ridiculous, downright rude, stupid, selfish, worthy of Youtube.” “It’s a scandal, it’s a threat, its scales are red.” And the little crowd, save our trio, worked themselves up into quite a fit, they got upset, they got perplexed, they got grumpy, they got uppity, they got…
“Oh, you’re angry are you?” asked the dragon in a voice that could tumble pyramids.
“Yes, yes,” the crowed replied, “We’re…we’re furious, outraged, cross, enraged, irate, fuming, livid…angry.”
“How very quaint,” she snickered, flames sparking at her nostrils, “I’ll show you angry.”
So she arched her back to face the sky and she opened her mouth and from it let fly an inferno. A volcano of fire, a fountain of smoke, shot into the afternoon breeze. Torrents and tendrils, reams and reams of flame burst into bright red life. And in the smoke and fire great images burst and grew, a phoenix was born and flew on blazing wings; galaxies erupted into stuttering life and whole constellations of scolding stars shone, shooting through the black smoke and dying in fiery supernovas.
The world was transformed, transmuted by the dragon’s breath and the crowd stood speechless. Reginald Bonx had lost his voice, couldn’t even squeak, he was shocked but really quite amazed. Bernard, Patricia’s husband, had lost the words, he was cowed and a little in awe. And Tommy’s Mum, whilst petrified was proud, for her son had found the dragon.
And as for our trio, Tommy, Patricia and Lance, so finally they could name the feeling that had grown in their chests, in their stomachs, and maybe even in their hearts. They could finally name their anger and in the presence of the dragon’s fire it burned, not into violence but into something altogether quite remarkable. They gripped each other’s hands so tight, at the sight that couldn’t but be terrifying, frightening, and in a funny way enlivening.
And when the flames died she flapped her wings into hurricanes and off she flew, to distant lands elsewhere, and finally they knew what it meant to be angry, to transform the world with the dragon’s breath.
Thus, she left and something in their minds her presence had rearranged and I’ll leave it to you, dear listener, to decide whether anything changed.