The Lorelei Signal
Exactly the Wrong Shade of Green
Written by Ray Daley / Artwork by Marge Simon
Once again, that time has rolled around. The Coupling. I’d try to tell you it’s not as bad as it sounds, but I’d be a liar. It’s exactly as bad as it sounds. Possibly worse?
Imagine every female you know, getting together, pairing off with males in order to mate. Except you.
This stupid ritual has been going on every year for the last four hundred, and I still haven’t been chosen yet. Thank the stars.
Dad has been super supportive during the whole messy business. Except it hasn’t. Been messy, that is.
It only gets messy if you get paired off. Because as every self-respecting female dragon knows, once mated, the male devours the female shortly after she lays her eggs. This is the main reason why I’m the oldest female dragon in the world.
It’ll all be the same tomorrow, we’ll gather below the cliffs, the females in the middle of the field. Then the males will fly in from the south, as they have for the last four hundred years. They’ll land, parade around the circle, and one by one they’ll pick the female they like best. Which won’t be me. It’s never me.
For the last hundred I’ve been telling Dad I’m not going to bother this year, but come the Coupling, I’m always there. Normally dragged there, kicking, screaming and breathing gusts of fire half a mile long because Dad refuses outright to believe that no-one is going to pick his little girl.
I’m four hundred and two years old now, for star’s sake. I’m not a hatchling anymore, Dad! I can take care of my own love life. I’m happy. Happy, and alive. Unlike all my friends.
~ * ~
It’s the same today, Dad looking after another clutch of eggs. He’s got his childcare skills perfectly dialed in now. The females are positively throwing themselves at him. He doesn’t have to wait for the Coupling to roll around every year. We’ve got females practically smashing our cave roof down to get at him for mating.
They don’t care that he’ll bite their heads off once the eggs are laid. Stars! The last one had scratched ”Eat Me!” on her belly with her talons. Some females have no standards.
Dad’s handsome and all that, but there are better males in the region. “Hey, sweetie, all ready for tomorrow?”
I buried my head under my left wing and hoped he’d let it go. I may as well have hoped for the stars to go out. It was about as likely as dad not being concerned I haven’t mated yet. “Ready as I can be,” I muttered from beneath my wing.
Extending a single talon, he lifted the wing off my head. “Speak up, sweetie, males aren’t attracted by females who mutter. Present a strong image to get selected. I’m sure you’ll be Coupling tomorrow.”
“And be dead before lunchtime?” I muttered to myself.
If dad caught that statement, he chose to either ignore it or let it pass. I didn’t get the urge to die. Then again, I also didn’t get the imperative to mate with the first male that decides you look like his kind of special.
Right now, every other female in a three-thousand-mile range was doing her absolute best to ensure she gets selected, straight onto the dinner menu. Only they don’t see it that way. Over the last four hundred years, I’ve had more than enough time to talk to each new crop before they take themselves off to copulation, followed by a side order of termination. Take this for a sample statement. “It’s our biological duty to mate! How else are we supposed to ensure the survival of the species?”
I don’t know, maybe by not letting the males eat us immediately afterwards? Never say that though. It’s considered heresy. And madness.
Males don’t like heresy. Or crazy females. I’d wager they also don’t like the fact two out of three eggs hatch as male. Or that the number of females is dangerously approaching zero.
It’s not my problem. I know I won’t be chosen. Or eaten.
~ * ~
Forty male dragons, and twelve females of mating age. You can hardly call us a species any longer. But this is what happens when males have eaten their females every year, for the last four hundred.
As always, we females made our way out onto the field first. Most of the ladies tried to pick themselves an optimal spot below the cliffs, somewhere they’d easily be seen as the males flew in from the south. I stood in the same place I’ve always stood for the last four hundred years. The chalk cliffs behind me reflecting the sun into the eyes of the approaching males, so no-one can look directly at me unless they fancy going blind. And no self-respecting female is going to mate with a blind male.
I counted them, as they crested the trees. Thirty-nine. Dad had chosen to stay home again? Not that it mattered. Any female who came of age before the next Coupling would no doubt be throwing herself under him in her hurry to be eaten.
The males landed and began their procession around us. Two or three girls flickered a flame, desperate to stand out from what could hardly be called a crowd. Obviously, that got the gents going, they were soon plucked from our number and whisked off into the sky to their first and only mating. In case you weren’t aware, dragons mate whilst airborne. It’s beautiful, graceful, incredibly complicated, and ends badly for one partner.
All but two of us were selected within the first minute. These chaps were hungry, and not just in the sexual urges sense either.
The remaining males were stuck between a literal rock and a hard place now. All of them had seen me before. They all knew my crenelations from memory by now. It spoke volumes. Like: CAUTION! AVOID THIS OUTLINE! DO NOT MATE WITH THIS FEMALE.
Right now, that was probably what the remaining males were thinking about me. Not that it mattered. One Perusian Red made his move towards the other remaining female. They were off and skyward before I could try to persuade her otherwise. What happened next was a repeat of what’s been happening for the last four hundred years. The remaining males took off, heading for home.
The field was already coated in a light dusting of dragon blood, female.
Again, in case you weren’t aware, female dragons give birth on the wing. Their male follows closely below them, catching each egg in its mouth until the female is done. Then the male swallows the eggs, secreting them into a pouch at the base of the throat. This allows him to pursue and finally consume the female, to give the eggs their first nutrition.
I’m the only female in the world to have seen the process more than once.
Dad wasn’t happy to see me come home. He had a talon around his new brood, half of which were already hatching. Which resulted in the worst news possible, all males. A state of affairs that was repeated all across our land. No new females had been born this year. And the other females that weren’t me were well over a couple of years away from sexual maturity.
~ * ~
It was a strange year that followed, Dad raised his boys, I kept myself to myself. A few of the younger females visited the cave, to seek the counsel of the only female of mating age. I happily shared my wisdom, doing my best to try and steer them towards my own mindset. That of the not getting eaten school of thought.
Do you know what happens when you’re the only woman in the world? You become the wise woman, by default.
Dad took the boys off to the summer hunting grounds, they had to be taught how to fly, how to hunt, how to look after a brood. And all the while, I had a line of young females seeking my council, my wisdom. My heresy.
A year positively flies by, when you know you’re the only single girl left in the whole world.
~ * ~
I started by changing my arrival. I flew. Normally I would have walked there. The males stuck to their ways, flying in from the south. I could have stood anywhere I wanted. I stood slap bang in the middle of what in any other year would have been a circle of giddy females. The males landed and began their usual procession around me. Just me. It seemed kind of stupid, and pointless. Mostly because it was.
This idiocy of tradition had resulted in thirty-nine male dragons, vying to mate with a lone angry female who’d been overlooked and left behind for the last four hundred years. And frankly, I was done with the whole thing.
I unfurled my wings completely and drew myself up to my full height. That got their attention. All of the males stopped in their tracks. “Hello, boys! I can see that look in your eyes. At least half of you are desperate. So desperate, you’ll even mate with me. The girl you’ve been ignoring for the last four-hundred-odd years. And let me tell you, boys, those years have been quite odd indeed for me. I’ve had time to think about the whole mating process, unlike my sisters. This whole business of eating the female has got us into quite the sticky situation, hasn’t it?”
They all just stood there, utterly dumbstruck.
I flamed a couple of them. “A lady is speaking. It’s considered polite to answer when asked a question.”
At least half of them nodded, unable to speak.
If that was all the response they could manage, I was going to take it. “What’s going to happen today, is we’re going to make a change. As a species. You chaps want eggs. If you eat me afterwards, you aren’t going to have another female to mate with for the next two years. So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to give you all a number. I’ve mixed them up, so I don’t know who is getting what. Whoever has the lowest number gets to mate with me first. Down here, on the ground. I know, stuff tradition. That’s what caused this mess in the first place. After I’ve mated, you aren’t going to eat me. Yes. You heard me right. I’ve got enough eggs for most of you. Not everyone, though. I think I can probably manage half the group, but I’m not going to push myself too hard. Anybody who doesn’t get to mate can come back next year. BUT! If you’ve mated this year, you don’t get a chance next year. This is how things will work from now on. Unless you all want to go home now empty throated?”
It’s rather refreshing, knowing you’re the one who saved the entire species. Almost all of that first clutch were female. We don’t do the whole “eat the female afterwards” bit anymore. A couple of the males tried that with me the first time. I don’t think they realized females have teeth too. Seeing an enraged female dragon with a male’s head between her jaws can seriously cool a lover’s ardor. At least it did for the lads who saw me almost bite several of their friend’s heads off.
So we have a nice, relaxed meeting once a year now. A casual encounter, entirely land-based, resulting in offspring, mostly female, thank the stars. The male in question leaves with his clutch of eggs. And I get to live. Again. I did pluck up the courage to ask the oldest male why I hadn’t been chosen before. Apparently, men talk, when they get together. Which is exactly what they used to do, once they’d left the Coupling field.
“Why did no-one ever pick me?” It’s a difficult question for a female to ask.
It turns out it’s even more difficult for a male to answer. Especially when the answer is so incredibly simple, and horribly offensive. So I’m the mother of our new species now. Why?
This is what you get, for being exactly the wrong shade of green. You get to live, and save the entire species.
And to be honest? I’m totally fine with that.
Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he's been writing since 1986.
Visit him on the web at: https://raymondwriteswrongs.wordpress.com/