Gusts of wind buffeted the branches of the large oak trees lining the road up to the town hall, tossing leaves across the browning grass. The sky was scattered with thin clouds and the sun’s rays peeked through every few moments. Resisting the early arrival of autumn, a few birds chittered cheerfully and flitted between the trees and bushes.
A shadow streaked across the yard, and moments later, with another swirl of air and a small cyclone of leaves, Anaeis landed at the end of the driveway. He flexed his front feet, digging the tips of his claws into the asphalt and finding his balance, his muscular, tapering tail landing behind him with a thud. He stretched his wings, shoulders straining, and then folded them in slowly, shaking off dead leaves and dust. With a deep, rumbling sigh, he started down the drive toward the town hall. The sound of his tail scraping along the asphalt joined the rustling leaves and the whispering wind, Anaeis mused dully over the agenda for the meeting.
Once a month, the Hickory Valley Council gathered in the town hall, a disproportionately large building compared to the small population. Eight people represented the town, which had fallen at just over 1,200 residents in the last census. And most of the town hall’s rooms went empty the rest of the time, save those few times when someone delivered birth, death, or marriage certificates to the screeching file cabinets. On top of all the extraneous rooms, the corridors were large enough to be comfortable for Hickory Valley’s dragons; in the main assembly hall, Anaeis could stretch his wings comfortably to their full width. The accommodations and optimistic plans for the amount of town participation had resulted in a looming, mansion-like building. Faded bricks and window shutters with peeling dark green paint emerged through the oak branches, a dry fountain in the middle of the circle drive.
The meeting would go as all the ones before — with little discussion, half the members would make an announcement or request, either small enough to afford or large enough that they would have known better before asking. Lucille Wolfe, the only full-time park ranger, would request maintenance for her trails and facilities. High school teachers Percy Morrison and Corin Finch had signed up to deliver their appeal for support for the latest fundraiser. Jerome Ponder, an infrequent but not entirely absent participant in town goings-on, was a slight anomaly on the schedule, but Anaeis guessed he would announce some event or another coming up at his restaurant.
Anaeis reached the large doors and just as they were swinging closed behind him, a voice reached him from outside.
“Hold that, would you?”
A hand appeared at the edge of the door, which Anaeis had caught with his tail. Jerome flashed a smile, then looked back for Isaiah Jones, the mayor and non-voting twelfth member of the council, who trotted up the few stairs with a huff. He looked surprised to see Anaeis, although the dragon couldn’t guess why; Isaiah regularly took his seat at meetings just moments before Anaeis called them to order.
“Hello there!” Isaiah said jovially, smoothing his suit. “Have a good flight over this morning?”
Anaeis inclined his head. “The rain seems to have passed for the next few days, if the wind and clouds around Mount Starling have told me anything.”
Jerome grinned and nudged the mayor, readjusting the messenger bag slung across his chest. “Won’t have to worry about tomorrow’s golf game, eh? I was hoping you’d have to cancel and spare me the humiliation.”
The men chuckled and Anaeis let out a soft rumble. He had never known Jerome to play golf, especially not with the mayor. A chill ran through Anaeis scales as the door swung shut, blocking the wind.