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Far away, beyond the mountains, there are vast plains of shingle, laying flat like a million stony fish scales. To the eye of any normal creature, these vast stretches of grey are barren. But that emptiness is a lie. If you close your eyes and listen, things move under those stones. Scales scratch. And, if you tread on the wrong piece of rock, you might end up with a terribly warm foot. Because this is the place where dragons live.
Clippity had been doing very well after his adventures with Arnold the troll. He had, of course, been in a lot of trouble with his mother. But when she saw what a sensible kid he’d been, she was inclined not to be too angry with him. Very soon he was back to playing with his friends in the paddock, chasing butterflies, butting fence-posts and spreading as much happiness as he possibly could.
One cloudy day, Clippity chased a particularly colourful butterfly all the way across the field, right up to the great steel cattle grid. Concentrating entirely on the brightly fluttering insect, he didn’t notice the ground as it gave way under his hoofs. With a clang and a bang, little Clippity tumbled forward, bending his foreleg painfully. He bleated, shocked and struggled to free himself, but to no avail. The young goat was stuck fast.
Dragons. Creatures of magic, covered in dull metallic scales. Their breath is a caustic heat while their eyes glitter terribly like distant stars on fire. But, being magical, they can, at the wiggle of a single claw, shimmer into invisibility. Which is why, even though we all know that dragons exist, we never see them.
No dragon can hide from his kin, however, no matter how much they might like to try. And Boris desperately wanted to hide. Boris did not want anyone to see him because he knew that he was very different. All his family and friends were monstrously large; miniature mountains in their own right, sliding amid their shingle burrows. But Boris was tiny - little bigger than a blackbird. And while the dragons around him were dull, like old steel, Boris was brilliant green, like a boiling emerald.
After years of ridicule and unkindness, Boris had had enough. His deep red eyes looked away from the cool grey of his home, out over the mountains, the rivers and woods all the way to the brilliant green of the fields in the distance. A green land where he might feel at home...
Poor little Clippity! His foreleg was terribly hurt. No amount of licking from his mother would cure this injury. A vet was called and very soon the fragile limb had been bandaged with a strangely coloured fabric which turned solid as more layers were wrapped around. Finally, Clippity was lifted up and carried to a field he had not seen before. The fences around it seemed particularly tall and uninviting. He was scared, not knowing where he was destined.
The vet could feel the creature tense in her arms and she made comforting noises deep in her throat. The soothing sound relaxed Clippity. But sooner than he wanted, he was placed carefully into the grassy field.
Very quickly, Clippity realised that he could no longer scamper. Gambolling was out too. Bouncing, sprinting, spinning - none of them worked very well at all with his solid, sticky out leg. If he was particularly careful, he could move a few steps without tripping over himself like a newborn kid. With a little goaty sigh, he took stock of his surroundings...
The journey had taken Boris the best part of a week, gliding quietly through the sun-drenched sky on his scaly wings and sleeping at nights, his tail wrapped tightly around the top-most branch of the tallest tree he could find. But he eventually discovered a small field, deep green and surrounded by a tall fence. He dived down into the hedges bordering it, blending in with the leaves. Although he knew no one could see him, he still felt nervous and wanted to completely disappear. He even found himself missing the cool beds of shingle back home.
Eventually, he began to explore his new home and found that he wasn’t alone. Some strangely furry creatures shared the enclosure he’d picked. And they weren’t getting on. “Well,” thought Boris, “If they get even angrier with each other, maybe they’ll leave me alone in my new green home...”. And so, bathed in his invisible scales, he flapped over to where the two goats, for goats they were, stood...
Clippity was not alone. In fact, there were two fellow kids in the centre of the field, glaring at each other. Intrigued, Clippity hobbled over.
One goat (Clara, he heard the other goat call her) also hobbled as she moved. But rather than a foreleg wrapped in brightly coloured fabric, her leg wasn’t shaped like a leg usually is. The lower part of her leg quickly dwindled into a little thin stump with no hoof at all. And rather than put any weight on it at all, she hopped around on the other three legs.
The other goat (Clarence, he heard Clara call him in a not at all friendly voice) had normal legs, normal hooves and could move around on them all apparently normally. However, his bearded face was hollow and his dark eyes flitted around the field as if terrified that some creature might pounce on him.
The strange pair were locked in a bitter argument. Open mouthed, Clippity listened...
It had been easy for Boris to stoke the fires of the argument. Hovering close to the ear of each creature, he whispered the words of hatred he’d been subjected to all his life. It felt good, for once, to have the power to make someone else hurt. And soon these stupid furry animals would storm off and leave him alone in peace and quiet.
“It’s not as if you even have any problems moving around,” bleeted Clara, gesturing with her shorter leg at his four, strong limbs. “You just don’t *want* to run around.”
Clippity’s eyebrows wiggled with surprise. It almost sounded like Clara’s voice had hopped a few inches to the right as she’d called Clarence ‘pathetic’. Clarence, however, was not worried about from what direction the voice had come. He bristled and shuddered at the insult.
“It’s *not* that I don’t *want* to run around! I’m just so scared of the...space. I need the high fences and the bushes to hide from the world. You can go wherever you want, it just takes you some extra time. That’s nothing!” Clarence shouted, stamping the ground with anger.
Clara gasped at the insult and was about to charge at Clarence when Clippity piped up.
“Excuse me, but my mother has always told me that when I’m angry, it’s important to count to ten and breathe. Things seem so much better after that.” He smiled, hoping that he might be able to defuse the situation.
It did not work.
Both goats turned to glare at him.
“What do you know, Limpy?”
Clara presumed Clarence had said this and smirked to herself. Clarence presumed that Clara had said it and snorted a short little laugh. Clippity didn’t bother thinking about who said it. He didn’t count to ten or breathe. In fact, if it weren’t for his leg, he’d have charged in and butted them both on the nose. But all he achieved was a spectacular tumble into a puddle.
“What do you know about anything?” asked Clara, derisively, “You’ll be out of this field in a few weeks when that leg’s healed. My leg won’t ever heal - I’ll be here forever!” She tried hard to mask the pain in her voice with anger.
“Yeah, you don’t know anything about what it’s really like to be scared for the future!” shouted Clarence, his heart beating wildly with fear; fear of his own anger, of the pressing sky and the wind that rustled around his ears.
Boris flapped around the three angry goats, the fear for his own future diminishing with the certainty that he would soon have the field all to himself. He did his very best to ignore the loneliness and hurt. Which is a shame, because if he hadn’t, he would have seen that it was actually growing all the time.
The three goats (with the aid of an occasional invisible snide remark) fell about arguing properly. The clamour rose into the summer air. Chloe followed it as one might the scent of a freshly baked cake. She did so carefully and gently, placing one hoof in front of the other until, finally, she was stood only a little way from the uproar.
Her opal eyes did not see, but she could clearly hear the anger of three individuals. She heard hurt, fear and shame. One goat had grown up looking different to those around her and had been treated badly. One had grown up seeing all the fear there was in the world magnified, as pebbles are at the bottom of a clear stream. One had recently suffered an injury and was scared for his future, not knowing how to cope with his new found limitations.
All of them did not fit properly into the world. All of them were the same. Whether differently shaped, hurt in mind or injuried of body. They all faced the same problem because they all struggled to fit into the world around them.
And then Chloe heard a very faint flap of leathery wings and a gentle rustle of metallic scales. She heard another voice full of fear, though it tried to blend with those around it.
“You poor creatures.”
They all froze. A dark goat with ghostly eyes stood only a little way off. Clippity, Clara and Clarence shuffled their hooves, not knowing quite how to respond. They were beginning to realise that they were all being rather silly. But one voice hadn’t been silenced.
“Get lost, blinky!” shouted Boris. But this time the three goats looked at one another, certain that the voice had not issued from one of their mouths.
“And you especially,” said Chloe, slowly moving forwards again, “to be on the outskirts of everything, hidden in the dark. It must be terribly lonely.”
Boris blushed under his scales and clamped his little crocodile mouth shut with a snap. Clippity startled, jumped, caught his bandaged leg under himself and stumbled into Clara. She helped him up.
“I don’t know who you are or where you’re from, but it sounds like you’ve experienced things we should all be able to understand. And if you share your problems with us, maybe we can help each other.” said Chloe, following Boris’ flightpath with her extremely mobile, tufted ears.
“And at the very least, we can all be together. As friends.”
Boris landed in front of Chloe and let go of the magic holding him invisible. The three goats behind him gasped at the sight, but of course, Chloe remained as she had been, just calmly listening.
“I’ve never had a friend before.” said Boris, sadly. He wiped a tear away with a wing, and hid his face.
“Neither have I.” said Clara.
“I had a friend once,” said Clarence, sadly, “but she died when I was still very young.”
“I have lots of friends.” said Clippity, ashamed. “But they all seem very far away.”
“Well,” said Chloe, smiling, “it’s the easiest thing in the world to make friends. You just have to find the thing that’s special about you and believe in it. Have pride in your difference. You’re all exceptional creatures - who wouldn’t want to get to know an exceptional creature?”
And all five exceptional creatures became firm friends. They were all different. But they also knew that, like all things, they would change and grow. They grew around the things that made them different. And their friendship was a part of that. Making them all members of a community. A community which remained intact, even when Clippity was able to walk normally again. Even when, after much hard work and with the support of his friends, Clarence was a little less scared of the pain he could feel in the world. Even when Clara was able to move beyond the high-fenced pen with Clippity to lean upon.
They all gained strength from each other and they all found a home. Even Boris who flitted through the hedgerows, the leaves and branches stroking his scales. Boris, the tiny green dragon, was home.
A brief explanation
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Two years ago, I wrote the first Clippity story for BADD2012. That was a story all about how people react to those with disabilities that keep them shut away from the world. This year I wanted to address some of the issues about the disability community (or the sometimes fractured remnants of what it should be).
I believe very strongly in the social model of disability and believe that the only way to properly deal with both a life as a disabled person and disability issues within a society is to follow this model. It is common to think about disability in an extremely narrow way - be it ‘wheelchair users’ (a pretty diverse bunch in their own right) or people with deafness, people on the autistic spectrum etc. I was lucky to spend a lot of time in a hospital school as a kid and so, early on, was used to thinking of limitations in a very broad sense (including people with behavioural issues who might not have a medical diagnosis at all).
This story was inspired by reading someone who felt very upset to see so many people with invisible conditions dominating the disability community as she saw it. Her childhood experiences of being very visibly different meant that she felt in an entirely separate position. Which of course she is. But just because we’re in different positions doesn’t mean we don’t suffer because of the same thing (societal restrictions/prejudices towards disabilities) and in a way that enables us to understand each other.
Of course, I have ended up using a few disability clichés - the slightly ethereal blind person and the duplicitous person of restricted growth. I hope I can be forgiven for these for the following reasons;
1 - we see that the dragon of restricted growth has been made very unhappy by an uncaring society. As soon as love is given, the character flaws disappear. That’s not the ‘just can’t help himself’ character you usually find in classic literature.
2 - The ethereal blind person is only ethereal in comparison because other people are blinded by anger - as soon as they lose their anger, so they are all equal.
Also, I’ve written this over the course of a few days when I’ve been quite poorly - I always find cliché comforting when I’m particularly unwell!