The Dragon Coin
by Barbara Purbaugh
Gavin stared at the gold coin in his hand. He had never seen one before. It couldn’t be real. They were only myths, legends that had nothing to do with him, a long-haired carnie at a backwoods fairground. But even as he pulled the hair from his eyes and tasted the dust of the fairgrounds on his lips, he knew it wasn’t fake. He knew it was a golden coin from Merlin the magician. Gavin stood in the doorway of his camper and ran his fingers over the coin. It was engraved with the head of a dragon.
“Where did you get this?” he asked the girl who had handed it to him.
“My mother gave it to me, but you know where it came from.”
According to the legend, the bearer of the coin would receive one spell from Merlin or his descendants. The original reason for the coin and the favor was lost to time, but every descendant of Merlin knew the legend.
“What do you want, kid?” he asked.
She bristled. He looked at her. She was small and thin, dressed in an oversize T-shirt and jeans. She wore flip-flops, and her feet were dirty. Her dark hair was long and pulled back into a knot at the base of her neck.
“Do you have any family members?” she asked.
He grinned. “What’sa matter, kid?” he asked, stepping from the camper. “Don’t I look like a magician to you?”
“No,” she said honestly. “You look like a carnie.”
He laughed. “Ta-dah,” he said, making a gesture like a magician. “I’m sad to report, kid, that the last of Merlin’s great descendants are indeed carnies. Not a one of us possesses an ounce of magical power. All of our magic has been lost through the generations. We do have a spellbook, but none of us can read it. Hell, some of us can barely read at all.” He tossed the coin to her. “Sorry, kid, we couldn’t do you any kind of magical favor — and the other kinds of favors we can do for you, you don’t want.”
“Is this a test?” she asked.
He laughed. “Fuck, no. My family isn’t very good at tests either.” He started to walk away.
“Can I see the book?” she asked.
He looked down at her. “Sure, why not?” He motioned for her to follow him. The fair was closing for the night, and the smell of stale carnival food drifted through the air. “Kid, for a little thing, you got a lot of nerve.”
He took her to his grandmother’s trailer. His grandmother was well over seventy years old, one of those skinny, hunched-over old ladies with a thousand miles of lines on her face. She made cotton candy and read tarot cards at the carnival. She didn’t even blink when he walked into the trailer with the girl behind him. She was sitting in an old recliner, soaking her feet in an old dishpan.
“This is Lindy,” he said. He walked to the back of the trailer, where his grandmother kept the book in a plastic tote. “Show her the coin,” he shouted to Lindy as he searched for it.
He heard his grandma suck in her breath as she viewed the coin. “Oh, Gavin,” she said to him as he presented the spellbook to Lindy.
The girl sat on the couch and opened the book, flipping through the pages. “I can’t read it either,” she said.
Gavin looked at her. She looked tired, like an old woman in a young girl’s body.
“What is it you want?” his grandmother whispered.
“I don’t want to be a dragon,” Lindy said. She looked up at him. Her eyes were distinctly reptilian yellow, with a black slit down the center. They were filled with tears.
“Fuck,” he muttered. He never knew that dragons weren’t dragons, but...
“Shapeshifters,” his grandmother said, finishing his thought.
Gavin didn’t know what to make of this. It was no secret that Merlin had had a love/hate relationship with dragons. Why would he grant them a favor? Why would he give them the coin?
“Where are your people?” his grandmother asked.
“All gone,” Lindy said. “I’m the last of my kind.”
“What happened to the others?” he asked.
“No one knows. Some say we killed each other. Some say Merlin cursed us. Others say we just went extinct like other species.”
“Are you sure there are no others?” he asked.
“Positive. Dragons are not wanderers.” She looked at the coin. “Merlin knew there would be only one of us left someday, and there’s a spell in the book to make that one completely human.”
“How did you find us?” Gavin’s grandmother asked.
“The coin led me here. It glows.” She reached out to take it from his grandmother. As she did, the coin glowed over the book, and the book began to glow too.
“Look,” he said. He sat on the couch next to Lindy. He opened the book to the dragon pictures. He knew the pictures by heart from the hours he’d spent as a kid poring over the book and trying to understand it.
She moved the coin over the dragon pages.
“Fertility spell for the last dragon,” he read.
Lindy looked at him.
“It’s not a spell to stop you from being a dragon. It’s a spell to create more dragons. He wasn’t ending dragons. He was saving them.”