The deep amber glow of the setting sun lit the tips of the dark trees on fire, turning each branch into a freshly struck match that lightly smoked in shifting shades of blue. The forest was silent, as if all living creatures had ceased moving to stare in reverence at the magical beauty that enshrouded the death of another day, and the soft breeze that could be felt brushing against any exposed skin did not so much as shake a twig. If it had been a month earlier, when the fallen leaves of autumn littered the forest floor like a thick carpet of orange and yellow tissue paper, such a silence would have been impossible. In those few weeks directly following the climax of arboreal color but before the first snow, there is always noise between the trees, and even the gentlest whisper of wind is sure to stir up crackling leaves into the dull cacophony of a thousand pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together. Now, though, the ground was covered with such a thick layer of snow that not a single knobby knee of an oak tree could be seen above the perfect blanket of white.
I stand on the hill of the hayfield overlooking the trees, looking over the trees at the sunset now fading into a dull smolder of orange and red—the color of lava right before it transforms into igneous rock. My neck begins to cramp and I suddenly realize that I’ve been standing with my head turned about forty-five degrees for who knows how long; I was walking across the field to the edge of the trees when I turned towards the horizon and was caught like a deer in the headlights—beautiful, awe-inspiring headlights. Slowly rotating my head down and around, back into its natural position, I swivel my feet so that I am fully facing the dying sun. My boots crunch the crystals of the top layer of snow like a rolling pin over toasted pecans, and I take a deep breath in through my nose with asinine optimism, but the only smell I get is the clean scent of dry air over packed snow.
Suddenly I hear a tremendous noise from the trees off to my left, as if a trunk is being ripped asunder against the grain. Taken completely off guard and off balance, I am knocked backwards by a gust of wind and I barely throw out my arm in time to prevent myself from landing squarely on my ass. Looking up from this strange tripodal position, my eyes widen in terror as I see a massive dragon rise up from its nest of broken trees, slowly ascending as its strong wings beat smoothly. It opens the jaws of its long snout to reveal teeth like sharpened walrus tusks, and it lets out a roar that is felt more than heard. This time my kickstand arm is of no assistance and I fall back, with a momentum that puts me completely supine, staring up into the face of a mythical monster that has undoubtedly noticed me. I am sure I haven’t blinked since I first laid eyes on the creature and I am unable to tear my glance away from its terrible face. Its eyes have locked onto mine and I am lost in the black depth of its massive pupil, bordered as it is with the most beautiful strands of gold that put the now forgotten sunset to shame. With two strong flaps of its scaly wings the beast is right above me, and though its long tail hardly touches the snow as it whips back and forth, I can still feel against my face the hot breath streaming from the nostrils on the tip of its snout, billowing towards me like the effluence of a Wild West train. The dragon’s eyes widen as it takes a deep breath and it opens its mouth with a deliberate slowness. Behind its long tongue is a deep amber glow, as if the setting sun had found a final resting place within this wicked winged serpent and I strain my eyes as far open as they will go to take in the myriad of colors that dance behind the gleaming white teeth. In direct opposition to the laws of nature and the canon of daily custom, the setting sun is regurgitated from behind the horizon of the back of the beast’s mouth, and the last thing I see before being swallowed up before the massive fireball is the most remarkable combination of orange and yellow; brighter than a star, sparkling more than the most precious gem.