Myths have long held that darning needles are nothing more than the devil's own mouthpieces. In exchange for being transformed from dull, gray, wingless, grub bodies into beautiful winged dragons, they carry the devil's evil whispers to the ears of men, women, and little children everywhere. Nigel is the largest, strongest, and brightest blue dragonfly ever to emerge from the water and the first to break this pact. He defies the Devil's minions and refuses to play his part, but can a simple, single darning needle hope to stand against ol' Scratch himself and change the fate of all his kind?
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"Come away from there, boyo."
"But why, Papa? They're pretty, they are."
"Of course they are. The Devil, he's no fool. And don't you need be one neither. Those are the Devil's own darning needles. They'll weigh a man's deeds; mark his measure. They can fill your ears with evil chatter and when they do, they'll knit up your future and soul in one neat tidy bundle the Devil to grasp."
The young boy on the river's edge backed slowly away from the water where perched on reeds and roots were dozens of green, blue, yellow, and red shining dragonflies, wings spread in anticipation of flight. In their many faceted eyes a dozen, a hundred, a thousand young boys crept up the bank, away, and into the darkening night.
It was spring on the Red River. Mountain snows melting in the north fed the currents fast and clean. Fish long since grown journeyed from distant waters, fighting the torrent to return to the places of their earliest memories. Great trees that shadowed the banks were thick once again with green and host to birds of every song and color, while from the forest on either side came all the woodland beasts to drink. In spring the sun's strength grew with each passing day and the chosen emerged from the water, dragging their bloated bodies on tiny legs to perch on reeds and roots, awaiting the change.
Theirs was an ancient pact. The when and how of it were long since forgotten and the details unimportant. Two things were known to each as they climbed out of the water and shrugged off their dull husks: they would be transformed from fat wingless bodies to beautiful winged dragons, live fast, fly, darting like colored lightning through the sky, and for this gift they would whisper for the Devil evil words, dark suggestions, in the ear of every man, boy, woman, and little girl they happened upon.
Nigel watched the chosen from just below the surface. He wasn't ready to leave the water. He wasn’'t sure he wanted to fly or at least he wasn't sure he wanted to give his voice to the Devil for nothing more than wings.
Nigel had come to the surface before and had seen many such departures. This one was no different. A dozen or more of his school now clung desperately to their perches just above the water. The world above seemed to Nigel as if it were pulsating. Everything, including the bodies of friends he had swum with and hid with from hungry river fish, seemed to undulate in a shower of fiery light.
First one and then another of their bodies began to split as thin shimmering wings unfurled and beautiful, slender, colorful, new bodies emerged from the empty gray skins Nigel had known. If he continued watching, Nigel knew the sun would dry and strengthen their wings and then before they took flight and vanished from sight, it would come to call on them.
"Come, Nigel. We can't tarry any longer. Today is not our day, though you've been fat enough for weeks!"
The others envied Nigel his thick, round, gray form. "You'll be quite a flier – You're fat enough to have wings for four in there," they'd say. All but Nigel were anxious to escape their bodies and the water.
"Come on, hurry! Before one of the river fish makes several meals of you." The others who hadn't departed were already swimming away back down into the river plants and rock beds where they fed and grew fatter. Nigel hesitated only a moment longer, gazing at the colorful newly emerged that were basking in the sun. Only a moment longer he lingered to watch, but it was a moment too long.
There was a great splash and Nigel could see nothing as the water swelled and erupted in waves all about him. When his vision cleared he could see the surface of the water now below him recede as he was lifted high into the air, trapped in the talons of a young fishing bird who would no doubt devour him.
Ditch loved his job. At court there were too many others all crowded together, all awaiting the dark one's orders or hoping to catch his favor. Ditch had had just enough of his favor to win this job and didn't wish any more. He knew that what could be given could just as easily be taken away and didn't want attention drawn to him, didn't want to make ol' Scratch take notice. Though happy is not a word often associated with demons, Ditch was indeed.
For a menial, muck-born, subservient demon from the least renowned corner of Hades like Ditch, life could hardly get better. He was emissary to the darning needles, or adderbolts as they were sometimes called, and though they were undoubtedly far more important to his master than he, some of their glory rubbed off on him. There really wasn't much to his job, which was the part Ditch loved most. He kept his eye on the stew, as he called the river where the young grub bodies swam, and made sure not too many of his charges fell victim to the fish there or birds. When new ones came up out of the stew and sloughed off their dull forms he would, as he intended to this morning, be there to give them their whispers and permission to fly before setting them to their purpose.
As Ditch ambled through the woods toward the river bank, he thought of all the bad each would do. Every whispery word they spoke on the wind would find its way into the hearts of men. Women too and children, of course. Once there the words would spoil, turn rotten, and nag at them until at last they took the words as suggestions and acted out dark and wicked deeds. This was all as the dark one intended. Ditch grinned a many pitch and pointed tooth grin that, had not all the woodland creatures already been frightened off by his wretched smell, his scaly and horned skin, or the dark shadows that surrounded him, would most certainly have caused a panicked flight.
This morning there were just over a dozen awaiting him. Nearly dry and obviously impatient to fly, they eagerly watched him approach. He had said it all so many times before that he could recite it without thinking. He took his place on a large flat rock that he used as a stage, gathered his breath (foul as it was) and spoke.
"A' right, 'ere, 'ere. Listen up ya lot. I'm Ditch and from the ol' Devil his self I come. I got 'ere wit' me a whole bag full o' whispers and each of ya will be needin' some. If'n that is, ya plan on flyin'." Ditch let the excited chatter quiet down before he began reaching into his bag, drawing up whispers in his six-fingered grip, and doling them out. When each of the darning needles had taken their share, Ditch spoke again.
"Now that ya got yer whispers, and by the power vested in me by ol' Scratch, I 'ereby says ya can fly." No sooner then he had said the word, fly they did. Lifting up from their perches where they had dried in the sun, the darning needles zigged, zagged, and hovered above, near, and around Ditch as they practiced with joy.
"'Ear me now!" Ditch shouted. "As the days pass yer wings will grow weary! Before ya ar' too tired ta fly, come find me again and I'll take ya down to meet the Devil where ya can find yer rest and 'ave yer reward!"
With that they were gone and Ditch's work for the day was nearly done. He thought he'd like a swim, but couldn't do it here so near the stew. He would have to move on down the river a ways, for wherever he swam the water turned dark, river plants withered, and fish died.
The fondest memories I recall from my adolescence are all connected, in one way or another, to my art. Many of those moments were simple events, like comparing doodles or sketches with friends on the school bus ride home, or spending the night at a good friend's house and making up fantasy characters on typing paper at the kitchen table. I will never forget the true inspiration though, that brought my talent to the surface and captivated my interest in art. It was the day I opened a comic book. From that day forward I spent my time attempting to duplicate, as best I could, the vivid images and action I saw on those pages. I became consumed with creative energy every time I read one of the epic stories that unfolded before me! Eventually, this led me to more and more artistic education and job opportunities, and I reveled in the process.
After sampling a brief introduction to the industry at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, I decided to further my education and I was accepted to attend classes at the famous Ringling College of Art in 1983. (Known at the time as the Ringling School of Art and Design.) From that point on I have pursued art projects on a freelance basis, many of which I will always hold fond memories for as well.
Currently, I reside in sunny Bradenton Florida, enjoying life with my wonderful wife, amazing son, and faithful friends, looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. - Doug