My name is Odd Thomas, and I've heard all the jokes.
For the last year or two, I've been travelling with the mysterious Annamaria, Lady of the Bell (as I call her, because she wore one when we first met), who looks about 19 years old and seven months pregnant, but is really much older and in that condition a lot longer; and Tim, who looks like a boy of 12 but is really several times that. I, on the other hand, am in my 20s, but look and act older; partly because I lost the love of my life, Ms. Stormy Llewellyn, to an act of senseless violence, and partly because I see ghosts, especially ghosts no-one else can see. It's not something I can explain (much less teach); I was born with it, gift or curse (usually both), and I'd be rid of it if I could, but I can't. They're real, though; I've had to bet my life on it, and the lives of many others, several times. What Annamaria wants with me, I don't know; but I go where she goes, and do all she says, and generally treat her like the older sister I never had, because whatever mysterious thing she represents, is almost undoubtedly better than anything I've ever seen or done in my short and sordid life, and for some reason, I'm useful.
So there we were, Annamaria, Tim, and I, gathering groceries in a local convenience store, when I was violently hit by a sudden sense that something terrible was about to happen. I get these feelings once in a while, and I've learned, the hard way, never to ignore them. I was justified an instant later, when an unattended cart charged me like a bull charging a matador, and several watermelons exploded. People screamed, and packages jumped off the shelves.
Normally, when something like that happens, I put it down to poltergeist activity, and look around for the poltergeist. To other people, they're invisible; but to me, they look just like people, in a kind of berserk state which comes over certain ghosts. This time, though, Annamaria told me to duck, and I did, and followed her out, with Tim still clinging to her skirts. I looked back, and saw something like bodiless shadows, moving about; but I've seen that kind of thing before, and they don't normally throw things. I call them bodachs. They're some sort of immaterial entity which congregates around the scene of impending disaster.
I heard about them from another man who could see them; but he hadn't told me more than a few minutes before a truck ran him down and killed him. Only I saw the bodachs take hold of the driver and make him do it. I've kept their existence mostly secret since; but I know to expect the worst when I see them coming. But whatever was in the store that minute, wasn't bodachs; it looked like nothing I'd seen before. The world's full of unexpected terrors, and wonders, for a guy like me. But it frightened Annamaria, which nothing else does, and that was enough.
We got outside, and looked around, and there were more of those shadows at our rental car. Now, I could see they were men and women, but somehow invisible to anyone except somebody like me. I saw others go by and not notice them (hard to determine, I know, in these days of privacy and personal space, when most people try not to make eye-contact with anyone else; but still discernible, for someone who lives by observation, as I do).
I said to Annamaria: 'We're cut off; they're waiting for us'.
She answered: 'I know that, odd one'. (She's the only one to call me by that name; Stormy did, and I've never felt right around it since, except from Annamaria, since Stormy died). 'I know, and we're going a different route'.
With that, she led us along the sidewalk a little way, to a place where the line of stores and warehouses was broken by a round arch, big enough to drive a truck through. All I could see through it was blue sky and summer-dry grassland; but there was a strange vibration in the air, which no normal person could've seen, which suggested it was no ordinary passage. She rushed us through it, and the next thing I knew, we were on a grassy yellow hill-top on the outskirts of town.
I asked: 'How;––?!', but she said: 'All in good time, odd one. Now we wait for our ride'.
We didn't have to wait long. All of a sudden, the air filled with the noise of gigantic wings; and then the world went crazy.
Flying toward us, on two enormous wings, was a dragon; a real, live, vermillion-red dragon, about the size of a humpback whale. He was coming our way like a fighter-plane in an air-show, and there was a man on his back; about my age, sort of Near-Eastern-looking, with black hair and a long moustache. They landed right beside us, and Annamaria said: 'Odd Thomas, this is A.E. Clipson, and his partner Traroth. Artaxerxes and Traroth, this is Odd Thomas, and this is Tim. We'll be going with you'.
The man on the dragon's back said: 'Pleased to meet you all. Just you mount up here, Mr. Thomas, and put Tim and Madame ahead of you on Traroth's back; I'll sit behind you all'.
So that's what we did. I was a little worried about falling off, but there was a heavy cotton pad draped over Traroth's back, like a series of saddles, and each of us found its seat on that, with a sort of seat belt.
I'd thought I was surprised out of my mind by the sudden discover that dragons existed, when I'd never seen one before in spite of years of exposure to the supernatural; but I was surprised even more, when he spoke: 'All aboard! Buckle up! Up, up, and away!'.
With that, he leapt into the sky.