1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for Short Story Contest #164: Theme: "Dragons"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Oct 5, 2014.

    Short Story Contest 164
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Dragons" courtesy of @kittie_pie

    Submissions will be open for 2 weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ THE CHANGES!

    If you wish to enter the contest post the story here directly in the thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 19th of October, 2014 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets [xxx words] at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the entries close, posting in the thread is open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text. If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Same thing with extra line spaces, delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  2. qp83
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    qp83 Member

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    The Dragon Hunter [569]

    Deafening rain pours down the black night sky and makes the young girl sink deeper into the mud. A broken horse carriage lay in shatters around her, still anchored to the dying horse which lies nearby snorting its last breaths. A big chunk of flesh has been teared away from the side of its chest, revealing the bones that make up its ribcage. The scene is briefly lit up by lightning that cracks along the smothering clouds, revealing three human corpses, one of the driver, and two of a man and a woman.

    The young girl is sitting by the woman's lifeless body.

    Another lightning flash cracks across the sky and reveals a tall monstruous figure standing behind the girl. The young girl looks up and sees the biggest man she's ever seen. Covered in several layers of clothing, the man looks like a big walking heap of clothes. A leather hat hides his grim face and tired eyes.

    The man grabs the young girl by the neck and lifts her up to his face for a closer inspection. As she hangs from his arm, she doesn't look much bigger than his head.

    He opens one of the many layers of his clothing and puts the young girl in a pocket and closes it again. Inside it's hard to breath, but warm and dry. She can hear his calm heart beat, and decides he is kind.

    No longer able to see outside, the young girl can only listen. She hears him take a few steps, then she can hear him open another layer of clothing and pull something out. A moment later there's a loud thump, and her nostrils are once again tickled by the smell of fresh blood. He continues walking in a slow but steady pace.

    The stuffy and warm air makes the young girl drowsy and it doesn't take long before she falls asleep.

    After several hours of walking, the girl wakes up by the creaking of metal hinges as a door opens. As the door closes, the sound of rain is replaced by the crackling of a fire.

    "Same as usual?" a woman's voice ask.

    "Yes, but bring an extra piece of bread and some warm soup," the man says. His voice is so deep the young girl can feel his chest vibrate as he speaks.

    The floorboards creak under the weight of the man as he walks closer to the crackling fire. She feels his weight shift as he sits down on a stool. He opens a layer of clothing and brings the girl out and puts her down on the table.

    A woman with a large bossom, carrying a tray, arrives at the table.

    "Oh, what's this?" The woman asks as she puts down a piece of bread and a bowl of soup infront of the girl. Infront of the man she puts down a large mug of mead and a plate with a big bone of medium rare meat.

    "Dragon," the man says and switches places of the bowl of soup and the plate with a big bone of meat. "I killed its mother, however I was unable to save a couple and their driver."

    The young girl lifts her blood and grease covered face from the bone and smiles at the talking man while happily wagging her tail. Though she doesn't understand what he is saying, she likes his deep voice.
     
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  3. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    The Contagious Bones [2,967 words]


    His talon bit into the skin of the criminal with more force than was called for, drawing out droplets of blood that slipped over the speckled skin before being caught by the wind. He needn't be so rough with the child--little more than a hatchling--caught in his tight grasp. But he was angry.

    Pale gray eyes met his beseechingly. Hsan pretended not to see.

    Very near, Hslak beat his wings. The movement of his flight was fluid and loose, but Hsan knew better than to be fooled. Hslak kept a sharp eye on Hsan. He was proud of their catch, such a rare thing these days. And should Hsan's hold have loosened on their prize, Hslak would have waste no time in recapturing their prey.

    As if in reply to this thought, Hsan tightened his grip further. That Hslak would suspect him of mercy was an annoyance. His low growl was swallowed by the sounds of the whistling air moving in currents around their sleek bodies.

    The day was clear and the two had been out patrolling the edge of the land, keeping a watchful eye on the out-of-bounds. They had served together many years, Hsan and Hslak, and each one could tell the stories of the other's scars. At the times that they worked together, barely a word need be uttered between them, and in times of relaxation, barely a word was desired. Years of proximity and shared danger had made them close, but not so close as to call the other friend. Their disputes, when they had them, were fierce. Hsan was dangerous in his own way, but Hslak was a creature of violence, and when none could be found, he had been known to create his own. Not a few of the scars on Hsan's scales had been etched by Hslak's angry claws.

    And yet on that day Hsan had been glad for Hslak's company. The land, after so many years of toil against the tower beings, was quiet. These days, duty on one's own could be dull. He and Hslak had pleasantly rehashed old battles, discussing former pains as though they were absent loved ones. Suffering was a mark of pride, and theirs was not a race to settle down easily.

    Perhaps too many years had gone by. Perhaps the abundance of peace had dulled his senses. Engrossed as he was in his memories of ashes and blood, it almost went unnoticed until nearly coming back down to land. Hsan saw it out of the corner of his eye only, that small wave of life in the out-of-bounds.

    His head must have turned. Too quickly, for Hslak was up with wings stretched before he could protest. Before he could lie.

    And so they had captured the youth, as was their obligation. He would suffer the consequences of his disobedience, this pale-eyed hatchling would, and in his own way, so would Hsan.

    He flexed his wings and put on a burst of speed. Better to get the deed over with.

    #

    The lord was amused, Hsan decided. It seemed he was not the only one growing bored in this time of peace.

    It was the ultimate show of power to give up the gift of flight, and the lord had not flown for a very long time. His shriveled midnight wings wrapped around his thin body like a second skin. The pale-one was either unaware of this display of power or simply an imbecile, for while the others in the room—ten of the most trusted—lowered their round bellies to the ground in deference, this one held himself proud and erect.

    Beside him, Hslak spoke in low tones to the weathered guard, Hso.

    “Peh'ur,” Hso whispered. “The only punishment appropriate for such an offense.”

    “So many years,” Hslak replied. “And on one so young.”

    “Young, old. Years do not affect the rule of law.” There was an edge of excitement in Hso's gravelly voice.

    Further down, a guard warned them to silence. It was then that the lord spoke.

    “What reason do you give for your violation?”

    The lord resembled a stone edifice, his body the color of day-old ash and as unmoving as the mountains, but yellow eyes, alight with curiosity, raked over the pale-one. Hsan's did the same. It was not only his eyes that were pale, he noticed. His scales also were the color of milky greenstone, as luminescent as pearl.

    The pale-one spoke and the room was suddenly thick with tension. Not a hatchling, then, but a female.

    “I have no reason to give.”

    The lord's head turned only fractionally. “You are not wise to say so little when asked directly. Tell me all. Will you not obey your lord?”

    “Forgive me--” the female said with bowed head. A tightness in Hsan's chest loosened, only to return two-fold as her head raised with defiance and she continued, “--but you are not my lord.”

    Several of the guards hissed. Hslak, however, was still. The tips of his wings were tall with agitation.

    “Who, may I ask, is your lord if not I?”

    The female left no room for misunderstanding. She spoke loudly, clearly, and with such passion that the sounds bounced around the stone room, sounding like a chorus of rebels. “I have no lord besides myself! The earth will never forgive you her destruction. She will pick you off her skin like a flea.”

    By outward appearance, the lord was not affected by this tirade. When he spoke it was to say one word, and one word only. “Peh'ur.”

    “My lord, permit me!” Hsan was shocked to hear Hslak speak at this, the worst moment possible. The other bowed as low as his powerful body would allow. “This female is disrespectful, but she could be of use. She must be punished for what she has done. But not Peh'ur. Leave something left of the female so that she made be of use to us males. A firm hand and she will soon see that her current path is misguided. I beg you, lord. Spare the female.”

    The others heard the sense of Hslak's words and held their breath. But it was not to be.

    “Peh'ur,” the lord repeated, and that was that.

    The circled closed upon the female, moving to the required distance. The heat of their flame was hottest at the very tip.

    The female lost her former composure. She looked wildly around the circle. For a heartbeat, her eyes met with Hslak's. She seemed to consider him, but soon moved on to look for another. When she looked to Hsan, her features softened and her composure returned.

    The lord spoke the word and each of the ten gathered his embers, opened his mouth, and spit his flame. Flesh crackled and disappeared as smoke, and the smell of Peh'ur, an odor both loved and detested, filled Hsan's wide nostrils. They were half-way through.

    A burst of blue light blinded Hsan as the first bone appeared. More and more light glittered across the domed ceiling as the fire exposed more of the female's bones. Fires extinguished, a pile of dazzling blue bones remained.

    Hsan turned to face Hslak, a question on his lips, when he was hit. Pictures and sounds assaulted him, making his head spin. He gasped and fell to the ground. When he came to, only a few seconds later, the bones no longer glowed. They were white, as they should be.

    A claw gripped his shoulder. “Go,” Hslak spoke so only he could hear.

    “What--” Hsan began. But then he saw his own wing outstretched for balance. It was glowing.

    #

    Hso was close behind and gaining. Hsan beat his wings with as much force as he could muster, but he had been flying for nearly an hour and was rapidly losing his strength.

    After Hslak had pushed him out the window, Hsan flew up high into the clouds to consider his situation. Although Hsan had never heard of such a thing ever happening , it was as though something from the bones had transferred on to him, almost like parasite latching onto a host. Given only those few moments of respite, he couldn't figure out what it meant.

    So he had waited, hoping beyond hope that the guards would leave him be. It was a silly hope, and one to be quickly dashed.

    Three guards had given him chase. Only Hso had managed to stay with him, and he showed no signs of tiring.

    A voice in his head was telling him to go to ground. The urge was strong, and Hsan cursed the blue light emanating from his skin that made it impossible to hide from his tenacious pursuer. He would have to make a move or else risk falling prey to Hso's gnarled claws.

    As the thought occurred to him, Hsan's body moved on its own. His wings arced to billow him up rather than forward. In less time than expected, Hso was directly beneath him. Hsan's wings folded an he dropped.

    Hso huffed sparks in surprise as Hsan landed on his back. Hsan's talons pierced the leathery skin and dug in, stopping only when they hit the old-one's spine. Hso screeched loud and high, and, to Hsan's amazement, the warrior began to tumble to the ground.

    Not wasting a moment, Hsan rose high and traveled far.

    #

    How long had he been aground? Days, possibly weeks. Long enough to be forgotten by the lord? Assuredly not. His was a memory that would test the rivers for length.

    Once he'd reached the dark soil, a yearning in Hsan eased and he fell into a deep sleep. In this sleep were many dreams, and their vestiges curled like smoke in his brain, refusing to take shape.

    Hsan stretched and pushed himself up, feeling a break above him.

    It was night. The stars sparkled in the clear sky and the moon lit up the face of the earth, one that he had never seen before.

    She. The female had called the earth a she. Hsan looked at the garden before him and felt the rightness of her words. At his feet, a small tree lay broken, snapped in half by his own back. He'd seen trees—before. The tower beings had fled to their skeletons after their metal edifices had fallen. But other smaller things were also present, green and with sweet smells that tickled his nose. Sweet had never been good before. To Hsan, sweet was the smell of death.

    “Hello.”

    Hsan lifted slightly into the air, ready to bolt. His tail whipped around, only nearly missing the tiny being whose round face was lit up by the moon. Dark eyes blinked at him.

    “Thank you for the plants, bone-carrier.”

    The embers were gathering in Hsan's belly. A few more moments and his fire would be ready.

    In the distance, a voice cried out. “Kay!” Another being ran into view. It was taller than the first but not by much. Hsan had almost forgotten how small they were. So small, but capable of so much destruction.

    “Tower being,” he hissed.

    The being came nearer and scooped up the little one. Its fright was obvious.

    “It's a bone-carrier, Da,” the little one said. “Look at all the food it gave us!” It turned to gaze at Hsan. “He won't hurt us.”

    Hsan realized the being was correct. Bone-carrier, plants, tower beings, food... His dreams had shown him all these things. Were they memories? Or warnings? The yearning began to take hold, this time telling him not to flee or go to ground, but to speak to these beings.

    He came back to earth and extinguished his embers. “Da,” he said, addressing the larger one. “The young one speaks the truth. I will not hurt you. If you explain.”

    #

    “We've only ever heard stories of the bone-carriers. Fables, some would say. About those that bring life back to the land.” The one called Da stopped to glare at Hsan. “After being scorched.”

    They sat on the ground. The tower beings looked folded in half.

    Hsan flicked his tail. “We were not the only ones to start fires.”

    “Did you start fires, Da?” Kay asked, his mouth full of freshly-dug root.

    “Not me,” the other replied, also chewing. “But our kind, yes.”

    “Why?”

    “Enough,” Da said, and Kay fell silent. “So the stories are true. We will not starve. Not all of us, anyway. And the earth...”

    Hsan had not thought about what would happen to the tower beings once the fighting ended. For so long their metal sky-chambers had seemed innumerable. When one fell, another replaced it. They sprayed metal that could bring down dozens of his own kind. They dropped fire from the sky. The beings had created armor and many weapons to battle his race long and hard.

    He had not considered that they would be unable to survive.

    “What do you eat?” Hsan queried.

    Da glared once more. “We eat as the dragons do,” he stated, using the old word.

    “That is bad?” Hsan need not ask. It was clear from Da's attitude that he thought it was. Hsan had never done it another way, so he saw nothing wrong with eating the weak, those with broken wings or maimed from battle.

    “It is not our way.”

    A feather-light touch stroked Hsan's flank.

    “Kay!” Da's sharp voice warned.

    “You're lit up,” Kay said, continuing to pet. “Like the moon.”

    It was true that although the glow had faded, Hsan continued to emit a pale light. The bones. They gave him more than memories. Hsan could feel the life around him, growing and straining to reach for him. He was able to reach back to them, and the exchange, this silent communication, felt necessary. Even the tower beings were within his realm of awareness, like two little lights in the darkness.

    For a single heart's beat, the moon went dark overhead. He'd been found.

    “Hide!”

    #

    Hso didn't come alone. He'd brought Hslak.

    The tower beings had fled to hide behind the stones and wreckage of their once-society. Hsan was alone in the clearing of new life. He crouched, wings open and ready for flight. Above, Hso could be heard hovering, his wings pushing air in a steady rhythm like a languid pulse.

    There was a whistle and then a crash as Hslak was released from Hso's hold and fell to earth. His body was dotted in puncture wounds, and Hsan could easily imagine the sport Hso had had with him.

    Hslak struggled to rise.

    “Traitor!” Hso yelled. His form still blocked the light of the moon above Hsan, but he was circling, getting ready to strike. “Why did you run, Hsan? You trust these beings more than the mercy of your lord?”

    Rage flashed through Hsan. “My lord would have locked me in a cell for my affliction!” he yelled to the sky.

    “And rightly so!”

    “Hsan...” Hslak's murmur brought him away from the building anger inside himself. He felt Hslak as he had felt the tower beings, like a flickering light. But Hslak's light was wavering. He was at the border of death. Hsan reached out, using a sense he had not before possessed, and set to work at strengthening Hslak's dimming flame.

    It worked, and Hsan closed his eyes in order to send more of his focus to his old companion. Hslak's power was returning. The earth also responded; white flowers sprang up around the injured one, releasing a delicious smell of spice.

    A shift of air was Hsan's only warning. Snapping his senses back to his body, he rolled on his side, only just escaping Hso's talons. Hso's high shriek pierced the night air as he swooped up, preparing his next attack.

    He should have taken to the sky. His chances at landing a blow, or even making an escape, would have been better. However, it was not years of experience that Hsan was listening to anymore but the bones. They spoke to him. He would stay on the ground, on the earth.

    Hso was coming in for another pass. He neared, flying low over the prone Hslak, not considering him a threat. It was a dangerous error, for Hslak suddenly sprang up, at the same time, his tail whipping to meet the joint of Hso's left wing. Hslak's spikes caught and pulled, rendering the flesh of Hso's wing ragged and useless. Hsan saw his opportunity and took it. Jaws open, he lunged at the other wing, tearing a chunk away.

    Hso exhaled sparks. His embers were gathering fast. He flung out his tale—now his only weapon—and connected with Hsan's head. Pain lanced through his eye and down his face.

    Hsan fell back. He was partially blinded, if not for good then from the dripping blood. He heard footsteps. The young-one was running towards him.

    “No!” Kay cried. The young one picked up a stone and pitched it at the wounded Hso. Though small, the young-one aimed well. The stone met its mark.

    Kay now had Hso's full attention.

    The other, Da, was coming. Hsan heard his frantic footfalls. But he would be too late. Hso's embers burned fully.

    Hsan moved. He knew what he must do.

    Several things happened quickly, and yet Hsan felt time slow. He rose to his full height and with wings stretched in front of the one called Kay just as Hso's fire began. In the small spaces of time, Hsan used his good eye to connect with Hslak. It would be up to him now what happened in this battle, to the two tower beings, and, possibly, to the earth.

    Heat surrounded Hsan, and the bones prepared to travel. They were going to a new home.
     
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  4. Delise
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    Delise Member

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    [558 words]

    Snake Oil

    We whispered as children,oh a life time ago, bemusing ourselves that we could see dragons in the sky.
    Dragons that moved lazily around and turned into swirls of rushing waters in a river then slowly form into floating mountains we knew we'd never climb.

    But that was a life-time ago.

    In this life a woman's sneering voice caught my attention. The sound of the car's engine stopped.

    "Are you listening to me young lady?"

    My eyes left the for-ever-blue California sky and turned to look at at my mother.

    I watched as her dark brown hands closed the jewelry box. The soft click of the felt box made it seem definite. They would never belong to me.

    "But they're beautiful. Don't throw them away. If you don't want them, give them to me at least."
    I said with little enthusiasm.

    "No! I didn't notice what they were when I bought them.
    Dragons are a type of serpent. They're evil! They symbolize Satan!
    Like in the garden of Eden, remember? They are snakes. They represent the Devil! This is why you can't trust Asians either, they worship snakes."

    My mother finished her matter-of-a-fact-rant with a nice side of spittle.

    My hands tightened into fists beside me.

    I began my habit of chewing on my inner cheek. Eating away at my own flesh seemed to pacify me. Pieces of myself seemed to scatter here and there, the longer she spoke and I listened.

    I tried my best not to point out that the metal dragons had been circled around Celtic symbols.
    There was no point in arguing that most cultures have legends of giant serpent-like creatures that were older than Christianity and had nothing to do with evil or Satan. Pointing out they were Celtic anyway,would mean she'd probably go on a rant about the White Devil, the Asians she would soon forget.

    A searing pain struck quickly in my head. My breathing became labored. Suddenly I began to feel claustrophobic. I needed to get out of the car and away from her.


    I opened the door to get out but turned to look back at her.
    I watched her put the earring box in her pocket.
    She had a smug grin stretched across her slightly crooked yellow teeth.

    (When did she start to look so damn old?)

    I eyed her strange fake grin, the type that animals bare when they're ready to attack, I kept the logic to myself to avoid violence. I carried enough invisible scars to know better than to tease a scared and desperate animal.

    Staring into her yellowing brown eyes made me sick. I closed my eyes and turned my head to avoid her contagion. The paranoia crawled over her skin. Fear coursed through every vein and vessel of her body.

    A heavy sigh escaped my body as I got of the car and walked up the drive way to the house. I looked up at the sky one last time before going inside. There wasn't a cloud to be seen.

    (Fear does strange things, like turn my once silken night-dream chocolate skinned poetic mother into a deranged sack of fat and bones wrapped in a dark worn-out skin.

    Poor dragons, if only they knew they were being possessed by the Devil, they'd surely go to church to seek salvation, like her.)
     
  5. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Set me Free [Word Count: 3,143]

    Collision. The screech of scales, claws. The scream of beasts in combat. Sand and dust billow in the air until the arena is thick with it. I bite my lip and watch anxiously from my position, shackled hands pressed together in fervent prayer. I do not want either of them to lose, but I will be whipped again if he doesn't win. And he will be butchered. For both our sakes, I must pray that he can tear the other's throat out.

    The dragons collide again, the scars along their backs rising up and pulsing: thick with blood and muscle that will never know the feeling of flight. Their wings were torn out as hatchlings, and from there the two drakes had grown, caged and beaten like dogs. Their own instincts to fight for territory work against them here in the arena. They can do nothing but hate one another. They can do nothing but will the other's blood to flow between their fangs. Down their throat. Compared to the carcasses of stray dogs they are fed once a month, I can't doubt that their own kind taste better than that.

    To fight is to feed. To feed is to live.

    Long, sinewy bodies coil and ripple like waves. Their long, angular heads snap, whip, bash, and gouge. Three rows of tiny white teeth gleam against the blazing heat of the day. I grit my teeth in anguish when the tan male clamps down on the red's foreleg, blood streaming. A dragon's teeth do not grow soldiers when planted --they are just teeth. But they are so sharp they can puncture even their own kind's dense scales. A prize for any hunter.

    My hands move to the bars of the window I peer from at ground level to the fight, and I can feel the earth vibrate when the red drake slams into the other. Despite how delicate and thin these creatures are, their bones are strong, and their scales still stronger.

    With a resounding screech of fury from the tan drake, both topple over into the sand in a mass of tangled limbs and glinting scales. The crowd roars in approval. Bets are placed, food dropped. Veils pulled over faces to keep the dust out of delicate, painted eyes. I have no veil. I have nothing but my own sack-cloth dress and chains. And a corner in the holding pen to sleep in.

    But all of it, as well as my own life, can be taken away in an instant. I have learned to be happy with the little mercies I am given.

    There is a bellow from one of the drakes then and I jerk so close to the bars my cheeks hurt, trying to see what is going on. The red slams his head into the other, curled horns locking. I don't see the wounds etched into his brilliant crimson hide, and can only watch as pools of scarlet turn the sand to mud, steaming in the sunshine. They jockey for position. Dig large hind talons into the earth for leverage. Their thin forelegs slash at air, near useless on land. These creatures are not meant for the earth's imprisonment. I've seen too many go mad and throw themselves against the roof or at the sky until they break their own limbs and have to be put down.

    Please... please win Rhu'daul. I nearly drop to my knees and beg when the tan male rises above the red, forcing him down. Rhu'daul's body vibrates, and I can just hear the high-pitched hissing that goes between them. Both are dominant males. They cannot -no, will not- back down and flee like they would in the desert, should one prove stronger than the other. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere to run. One must live, and one must die.

    Please...
    His fore-claws brush the earth, brace. I watch the tip of his tail twitch in agitation. My red drake. My dragon. I have seen him grow from a tiny hatchling as long as my forearm, named him after the ruby color of his scales. Now he stands taller than any horse, easily the length of fifteen men. His horns, like an antelope's, curl back in a graceful arc, ringed in by dense bone. His hind-legs bulge with thick muscle meant to launch himself into the air for flight, but the long, angry scars that span from shoulder to hock are his only remembrance of once owning wings. I remember the awful sound he made when they were stolen from him. And even though they hated each other, would kill each other, the other dragons within earshot had all keened.

    But despite the devastation of those wounds, Rhu was, and is, still stronger than me. Whenever the Dragon Master enters the holding pens, he alone will rise up and snarl; even attack if the man goes too close to his cage. No amount of whipping or starvation will drive fear into my Rhu'dal's heart.

    It is in the same moment that my spine straightens with pride that I see his head jerk, slide under the other drake's jaw, and his teeth close around the soft spot just beneath his opponent's head. The crowd's cheer is a deafening roar as he closes his maw like a hunter's trap and shakes his head rapidly. I grip the bars and cheer. The other drake gurgles, blood pouring down both their chests as he claws at Rhu'daul's thickly plated breast, but his struggles cease the moment a loud crack rings out against the arena walls.

    His hind legs tremble, then buckle, his weight driving his body deep into the mud. My red drake shakes his head again to be sure is foe is dead, and when he is, he drops his enemy and bellows to the skies. The gills on either side of his head flare and display brilliant colors. Golds, greens, and blues. I see the second ribcage on his long body expand and a small burst of brilliant flame escapes his jaws. I grin like a giddy child when the crowd reacts in surprise. Dragons can only breathe fire when they eat a shining mineral called platinum, which they filter from the sands, but the Dragon Masters are very careful to be sure they cannot access the mineral. Yet I defy them in my own way. Whenever I can, I sneak a handful of sand to the cages for him to eat and filter. I know he would just as soon bite me as well as the Master, but I am careful. I take pride in him. I do not feel sad that he hates me just as much as any other human. His hatred is blind: all of his kind's hatred is blind. I merely envy that he is brave enough to act upon it, and hope that his rage can encompass mine as well.

    "Good boy, Rhu." I whisper in praise. "Go0d-"

    I gasp in pain when a heavy lash sends pain through my entire body.

    The Dragon Master stands over me, and his cruel eyes glint in the light that filters through the bars. I hadn't heard him come up behind me. "Good? That fight should have taken half the time. He was not desperate enough." the man growled. "He's to be fed half rations this month. And if I find you trying to feed him more than that, you'll be flogged. Is that clear?"

    "Y-Yes master..." I'm curled in a ball and cover my head with my hands, chains clinking. Joy is a memory. My own blood trickles down my back like liquid fire and drips to the floor. Hidden underground, under the foundations of the arena, the dragons are only allowed to see the sky when they fight. And like them, I am trapped here in our collective sandstone tomb, with nothing more than a barred window to see the outside world.

    I shiver when he raises the whip again. "Get moving! There's another match in one sun-span, and I need the sil'dayra in the chutes!" he growls. I nod fervently and dart away before he can whip me again.

    Not a second later I can hear Rhu's angry bellows as he is forced into the exit chute by the pole-guard. I slip between the bars of his cage and fumble to the back gate, open it and jump out as the drake charges in and slams into the front gate where I had been standing a moment before. The next step is the most dangerous for me and takes a few seconds, but I manage to hook the back gate with a pole and close it before he can notice my presence.

    The hot tang of blood coats the back of my tongue, and my nose is filled with his scent. As I am sure his nose is with mine. Not a second after I close the gate he turns in my direction and smashes his narrow head between the bars to try and get at me, teeth snapping. I don't flinch, and instead make sure to stay between the two cages so the small green dragon penned behind me can't get the opportunity to lay into me either. Its always a fatal mistake for a Dragon Slave to jump back when one dragon snaps at them, only to end up in the jaws of the one caged behind.

    "I'm sorry, Rhu." I whisper, and turn away to limp down the aisle of cages, his deranged, angry snarls burning into my back like fresh wounds. Rhu is the only red one in the bunch, along with two blue and one green. Tan dragons are the most common. Any other colors are unheard of. I stop for a moment and examine the blue sil'dayra my Master is so proud of at the moment. She came out sterile, so the she-dragon was quickly dumped into the arenas, useless for nothing other than entertainment when she would have otherwise been used to lay eggs to feed the nobles, as well as breed new fighting dragons. I call her Sikla.

    She lays in the back corner of her cage, seemingly asleep. But I know better. I see one pale blue eye, half-lidded, watching me. Out of all the others, she is the trickster. The males don't know how to react toward her. She smells like something that isn't a threat, yet Sikla has been trained just like any other drake. In most fights, she's got surprise on her side, and I can hear the crowd call her an illegal. A cheat. Only males should be allowed to fight. She should have been put down. But my Master has trained her well and made her entertaining, so the Lord of "our great city" lets him do as he pleases.

    I feel the Master's eyes bore into my back when he walks past and I jump to it. There's no time for caution. I need to open the gate and set her in the chute for the next match.

    The chains to the gate rattle loudly, and I keep one wary eye on the small blue dragon as I put my hands between the bars. She's been fed well recently, so she should be considered safe. But a fed dragon can just as easily be more dangerous than a starved one. You can never tell with her.

    I was right. The moment I take my gaze off of her to undo the final lock, she strikes. I pull my hands back quickly, but she still manages to ram her muzzle into one and crush it against the bars. I gasp in pain and tears spring to my eyes. Sikla growls when she doesn't get a hold, though, and I'm able to pull my hand back in relatively one pice before she can sink her teeth into me.

    I kneel on the ground, heart in my throat. Her hatred is blind. Her hatred is blind. She does not know that I have every intent to help her could I do so. I have no reason to feel angry with her. But I am weak. What can I do to better them, when they have nowhere to go? They cannot fly. I can demand no kindness or respect from animals when I deserve none. I am merely another being who is responsible for their imprisonment. I deserve it.

    The gate slides open with a creak then and she turns. I remain still, mindful not to draw attention to myself, and after a tense moment she heads in. It's as if she's aware of a way to vent her rage that may prove more satisfying than biting a small, malnourished human. Another minute, and then the tip of her tail vanishes down the tunnel. I wait a second to make sure she isn't hiding around the corner, waiting for me, then fumble with the gate again to close it. It takes twice as long as usual. Every time I try to use my injured hand I wince.

    As I finish I can feel the Master's gaze on me again and glance out of the corner of my eye. We stare at each other. I at his feet, and he at the wound across my back. It tingles in response. I do not need to be reminded that if I do not behave, I will receive many more wounds similar to the first.

    "Clean the cages and feed the red one." he says. "And remember, he gets half rations. I can't afford to have any lazy dragons here."

    "Yes, master."


    The next fight has begun, but I do not go to watch this time. Instead, I lay on the ground, trying to avoid any sort of movement so my back can scab over quickly. I have taken many lashes before and lived. This is a minor warning. Not a punishment. I keep one eye open for the Dragon Master in case he is lurking nearby. I am done with my chores for now, but he will beat me no matter what I am doing so long as it irritates him.

    Rhu has gone quiet now. He watches me from his cage, the both of us wounded and bleeding. At one time I may have thought that made us twins, but now I am too tired to care. Defeat lingers in my vision like a black shroud, threatening to overwhelm me with black thoughts. I have already lived longer than many Dragon Slaves are expected to. I am good at my work. That makes me valuable to my Master, in a small way. But I do not want to live this way. Cannot live this way. I will go mad like the dragons, when they cannot fly. Caged, chained. It is only a matter of time.

    I wonder again what I could do to better those who hate me, yet I love beyond all reason. They can fight, can wound, can kill, whereas I am too weak to even go up against the Master and have any hope of leaving a mark before he beats me senseless. I look to Rhu'daul again. Large, blood red eyes stare into mine. A predator contemplating its prey. Wondering if I will die here, on the ground and just out of reach no doubt. I look at his powerful hind legs. The cruel, wicked talons that can slice into a man's armor like a knife through butter. His teeth and jaws. His tail, used like a mace to crush and pulverize opponents.

    If I were him, I would only want to be set loose one more time, and kill as many as I could before I went down. I would have my revenge upon humanity. I would rend them to pieces, burn their dwellings to the ground. Devour their children and their flocks. If I were a dragon none would survive my fury.

    My hands touch the chains that keep the front gate closed. I blink. When had I moved? But it doesn't matter. I see him. I see me in his eyes. Pools of blood reflecting my small, pitiful frame. My face is cast in shadow.

    My hands tremble and I undo the first lock. No. I am no longer myself. I am him. He is what I want to be. He will do everything for me. Will end this suffering for me. For all of us.

    The second lock. I look around now and do not see simple beasts. I see my own kind. Locked, shackled, and caged. If I set them free, they will wreak their havoc upon the race that has destroyed us without qualm.

    The third. Rhu stands now, comes close to the gate. I think I see curiosity and bloodlust in his eyes. He knows. He knows. My heart pounds in giddy delight and I fumble with the last.

    The gate clicks. Opens. Then I am at the next cage. It seems like everything has gone silent around me. All of them are watching me. I cannot even hear the dragons in the arena as they fight for their lives. Or maybe they have all sensed what I am doing. One. Two. Three. Each lock falls, each cage opens and releases a new version of the terror I want everyone who had enslaved us and destroyed us to feel. I look back with a smile and see each dragon poke their head out of their holdings. Rhu is standing in the middle, red ringed in by brown, green, and blue. I brave the hallway and push at the main door. Sunlight pours in. I see the sky. People of all shapes and sizes walk along the road, oblivious to what I am about to unleash upon them. Maybe some are innocent. Maybe only a few are guilty. But a dragon's rage is blind, as is mine.

    There is the faint crunch of sand and stone between claws as the dragons move forward as a group, scenting fresh air. They pay no attention to one another, or to me. But one does.

    "You're free, Rhu'daul." I whisper, a mere foot away from the massive drake that I had once coddled as a hatchling. My hands, chained, reach up and place themselves on his muzzle -soft, velvety skin that gleams like fresh blood. It has been so long since I have touched him, and tears flood my eyes. "You're free!"

    The first screams ring out and teeth meet in my shoulder. I have set him free.

    And now, I am as well.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  6. JFKilbang
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    JFKilbang New Member

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    Dancing In The Dark [Word Count: 2175]

    He said to board up all the windows, that was yesterday and I don’t care anymore. It’s too late. It’s over. I am slouched under the kitchen island, looking out through the un-shuttered windows or at least my head is facing that way. Nothing to see only darkness. How long have I been sitting here? How many hours have passed? Did I get any sleep?

    Dirty Dragon bastard. I bend over in pain and drop the dish cloth from my mouth. I turn left and heave. After a minute I relax again and fall back into my stationary position. I let my head roll backwards and stare at all the little LED lights that are lined in neat rows on the ceiling. It looks like a runway. There’s no light out of them though, there hasn’t been electricity since…whenever. Christ, I’d love to get a plane out of here. There is no getting out of here though. I cautiously take in a breath, careful not to upset the beast that has taken over my stomach. I pick up the dish cloth, my bloody rag, and slap away the ropes of spitty-bile that hang from my mouth. Maybe if I had boarded up the windows I would be safe from whatever shite is in the air. If the dragons don’t kill me, the toxic air will. But how I was supposed to board up the windows? It’s not like I have a fully stocked woodshed at the end of my suburban garden. I shake my head. I do that a lot. Every damming thought is broken by a quick turn of my head. I have to be more careful now; my brain feels like it’s on fire. That shite, it builds up in my mouth, I can feel it between the gaps of my teeth and in the hollows of my cheeks. My mouth is so dry that it’s impossible not to swallow and when I do, all that sulphur shite or whatever it is gets taken down into my stomach and before long I am retching. Sulphur is supposed to smell isn’t it? I can’t smell anything.

    A God awful shriek cracks the night, the house shakes but I don’t even blink. That noise is familiar now, like the sound of my neighbours barking dogs or the cheers that rise up from the soccer field down the road. The Dragons don’t scare me anymore. The human scream, that’s what scares me. It shakes my bones, the sound of women and children are the worst, naturally. I haven’t heard anything in a while though, an hour or so maybe, hopefully they all have found good hiding places. They might be able to sit it out. I’m not hiding. I don’t care anymore.

    I look out the window, something has caught my eye. A gorgeous wintery red glow suddenly comes alive in the corner of my sight, its tiny reflections dancing across the marble worktops, the proud family photos, the rarely opened glass cabinets. I can hear car alarms going off and an explosion. The glow bruises further into the night, I can see flames now, menacing they are, licking whips of electric blue-green. The Dragon must have hit an oil tank, maybe beside someone’s house. Dirty Bastard. I catch something else in the sky, some kind of fiery missile, its moving fast, towards me, towards my house. Before I know it, I’m curled up in a ball with my hands covering my sorry head. The glass windows shatter and the wind tears through. Without even thinking, I’m on my feet. I have to get out of here. I see the thing as I step up; a flaming ball of fire sitting in my garden like a hot lump of coal. I just mowed the lawn yesterday afternoon. It was perfect. From the smell off it I know it is flesh, the city was full of that smell. It could be anybody; a mother, a father, a teen, a child, a babysitter….someone’s pet dog?

    I turn and limp across the floor tiles like a war veteran. I pull open the door; drag myself out, close the door shut and sink to the floor. Maybe it was my wife? I hit myself across the face for thinking that. I shouldn’t think like that. I want to get sick but I hold it back. She’s probably dead though, Sandra, I think back to yesterday morning, to my petty going-to-work-goodbye, to all the petty goodbyes I have given her these past six months. It’s been tough. She handled it well, better than any wife could. Again, I hit myself across the face and melt into a crumpled fold of flesh, heaving. Heaving sweet nothings! I’m all out of bile it seems. I rub my mouth with a quick sweep of my arm and pick myself up onto my feet. The hallway sways left and right; it would only be a matter of time before my sanity gives in and leaves me entirely to the mercy of absolute delirium. Shitty air making me think shitty things. Clara. My only child. Will she be still alive after all of this? She isn’t even in the same country, maybe the Dragons haven’t reached….I stop there, why am I trying to fool myself? I saw the news bulletins. The dragons were everywhere in the world, even Canada. Why did she have to go there? Why couldn’t she just stay here for University like the rest of her friends? Stay with her family...why didn’t I have more children? I want to hit myself, I really, really do, but I haven’t the strength left to entertain another retching session. I’m in the living room now. Maybe it was just as well we didn’t have more children, considering the situation. I let myself fall onto the leather couch; my head hits the cushion, creating a sound, music in fact.

    The Boss? Yes. It’s him all right. Singing about writing his book and dancing in the dark. I reach in behind the cushion and pull out a neat looking mp3 player. It’s pink. It’s Sandra’s. I laugh; a head rolling psychotic laugh that only a stage actor could deliver. Yesterday, as I mowed the front lawn, I saw Sandra through the netting, dancing all goofy all over the living room floor, hands rising in semi-punches, hair catching every atom of air. She was dancing to The Boss. Our wedding song. Her choice. She must have had a really bad day at work. It’s not like she would have told me anyway. And what did I do at this moment? I rolled my eyes. Didn’t even crack a smile just rolled my eyes and muttered some shit. Got back to the mowing. Christ, I should have ran in! Turned off the stupid mower and danced with her. Our first dance. It could have been our last. I laugh again, this time I feel tears coming down my shaking head. This is ridiculous. I’m going to wake up tomorrow on a hospital bed. A mid-life-crisis-induced-psychosis the doctor would tell me, it’s been building up for months. Of course, I’d say, yes, of course.

    I rise up. Wipe my stupid face. My neighbours, I haven’t even checked if they were ok, if they need help. What’s wrong with me? They have kids, most of the families on the street have young kids. Where did I put my hunting gun? My head rattles as I approach the hallway, the walls stretch and swell to my disbelief. I know it’s not real. Just the shitty air playing with me.

    He told me to board up the windows, that half-witted priest I almost knocked down driving out of the city. Stuck his demented head straight into my open car window, I could smell wine and Eucharist off his breath. Board up the windows, he said, the three days of darkness have begun, repent for your soul! Your sins! The scorpions will grind-… I drove off before he could finish his rant. He didn’t seem to mind. When I looked in my wing mirror I could see him with his head stuck in some other poor soul’s car. I wonder where he is now? Probably boarded up in some dusty old church, all of his dominions around him. It’s nice in a way. At least they are altogether. Friends and family. They can all die together. Lucky bastards. My soul? My sins? I have never given them much thought before, until today. The Dragons on the outside seem to have awoken the Dragons inside my head and I can’t hide away from them, they’re breathing fire into all my dead memories, dragging them back into my consciousness, a relentless series of venomous resurrections. What am I to do about it?

    The rifle is in my hand. I’ve taken it from the utility box under the stairs. It’s just as well I didn’t move it upstairs like I had planned. Sandy was always saying it was dangerous to have it there. I reminded her that we don’t have any kids. It’s heavy. It’s loaded. I walk back to the living room ignoring the bubbling walls and faint fog that I see around me. It’s not real. Just the hallucinate conjuring’s of a brain that is lapsing to mush. Nothing to be scared of. I’m standing in front of the fully stocked wine cabinet now. Should I have a drink? One last drink before I leave? No. That’s far too cliché and I’m sick of cliché. My whole life has just been one never ending cliché. The top degree. The top family. The top house. The top car. The top job. The sprawling summer chateau in the French hills. The home-made wine sitting snug in my living room for all to witness. Sandy never wanted to buy that chateau. I insisted. Me. A chateau for God’s sake! And now she has to look at that stupid wine cabinet every day and be reminded of her husband’s betrayal. A mahogany testament to our weddings vows! I pull the trigger. I manage two angry shots. It’s more than enough. The cabinet looks like an open monster wound or some dangerous portal into another dimension. There’s a green-purple haze off the splattered wine that unsettles me; it reminds me of church. I wonder if dragon blood looks this horrible. I wipe the wine from my forehead, careful not to smell its decadent stink. That felt good. I feel more focused now. I better go check on the neighbours. I see Sandy’s pink mp3 player in the corner of my eye and I consider taking it with me. I leave it where it is. I’ve wasted enough time already.

    I’m at the front door. My hand is shaking over the handle. I’m scared. The fake fog has got thicker. The priest said not too leave the house. Or did he? It’s written in the Bible isn’t it? Revelations or something. I don’t know. I can’t hear anything outside. But I know they are there. Quietly waiting. It’s all just a waiting game. I want to go back into the living room. I want to hide. Sit it out another night. To hell with the neighbours!

    I press down on the door handle. I’m a proud bastard.

    I walk outside and fall onto my knees. I can’t see anything! Nothing! Darkness. I crawl forward across the lawn. I can’t feel the grass under my hands. I can’t feel the pavement. What’s going on? I grip harder onto the gun, if I lose that I’m dead. What’s going on? I can’t see the neighbour’s house. I’m completely blind! I roll onto my back. I’m pointing the gun towards what I think is the sky, it’s shaken like a rattle in my two hands. I gasp. The gun is pushed hard into my chest. The wind is bearing down on me as if I am trapped under a helicopter. It’s not a helicopter though. The creature screams. I’m sobbing now. I’m the one who didn’t want to have more children! Its over isn’t it? I’m a goner. I can’t see the bastard. I squeeze the trigger. I can barely hear the gun in the wind. The trigger softens to a click. I’m out of ammo. I let go of the gun. The Dragon is still screaming. The pressure on my chest grows stronger. I’m done. Then I see it again. That log fire glow. A moon shaped wonder in absolute darkness. It expands quickly and I can’t stop looking at it. In these final moments I don’t think of my wife. I don’t think of my daughter. I think of Her. The Other Woman. I can see her red dress as she runs through the vineyards. I can feel heat now. The fire above is swelling. It’s ready to drop. I can only think of Her. My greatest regret. My greatest sin. The fire drops. I grind my teeth and fade without a spark.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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  8. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    Dragon’s Breath (3101 - Language)

    Thursday – 2:37 AM

    Jonah stopped his bicycle on the sidewalk and stared at the house. It was nearly overcome. Flames were growing bigger and broader by the second. Fire flicked outside the windows, like a creature with hundreds of tongues, licking the painted panes, attacking the wooden siding, consuming it, gobbling up the entire structure. If Jonah didn’t know better, he’d swear he was witnessing the long awaited feeding of a ravenous beast that’d been kept too long starved.

    Odd, though, that Jonah felt no heat from the fire. And why was he on his bike at this hour? It was pitch-black dark. It was way past his bedtime. Mom would be mad.

    He looked around, wondering why his neighbors weren’t outside, too. Grownups were spectacle junkies for these kinds’ things. Especially if it involved folks they knew but weren’t emotionally invested in. He suspected a few of harboring a secret twisted glee; a perverse delight when disaster like this struck, straddling a triad of feelings – shock and disbelief, curiosity and the greedy need to know every detail, and of course, relief that it was happening to anybody but them.

    So where were they? This was a wet dream for some of them, like Mrs. Anderson who lived across the street with her house full of cats. Rarely venturing outside, she’d become a community fixture, constantly pressed to the glass of her dingy, lace covered window, her red, curly, Aqua Netted helmet silhouetted against the dim glow from her television.

    She was civil enough to wave if she and Jonah made eye contact, but he often wondered; did she ever sit down, eat dinner, take a dump? Did she live in front of that window? And why wasn’t she out here now? After all, it was their neighbor’s home that was on fire; the home of the neighbor he suspected (no – a neighbor he knew!) had poisoned his dog. The neighbor that was probably responsible for most of the absent pets on their block.

    Mrs. Anderson had called his mom just last week about a litter of kittens that were missing from her three-season porch. And her tomcat, Kruiser – a constant presence in their neighborhood – he’d been gone for over two months.

    Jonah looked up when he heard sharp popping and crackling; the sounds of the world’s mightiest campfire – a roided-out version of the fires his grandpa and he would cook hotdogs and S’mores over while camping by the river before Grandpa died.

    Then Jonah’s ears caught something else, beneath the other sounds. First there was moaning, and then he heard screaming. The screaming of a man screaming like a woman. A man being burned alive.

    It was Mr. Maynor, his neighbor – that horrible man that killed Cooper.

    Nobody in the neighborhood cared for Mr. Maynor. And Cooper, who could sound quite ferocious for a nineteen pound dachshund, liked him the least. He’d snarl and bark if he spied him through the pickets of their shared fence, somehow knowing there was something very wrong with him; something off, something rotten.

    Jonah held his hands out toward the flames. How could he be this close and feel no heat, smell no smoke? He turned to look behind him once more. The street was empty and still. There was only the blackness of night and the shadowy, quiet windows of sleeping houses.

    He waited for the deafening boom of collapsing beams. That had to be next. But when he turned back, Mr. Maynor’s house was suddenly whole. No flames, no smoke, no high-pitched screams piercing the night. The house was intact, dark, and as creepy as ever.

    He felt a heavy pressure from his bladder. He glanced to the left and right, wondering how shitty it would be to pee on Mr. Maynor’s shrubs.

    But then he was floating. Up, up, and up, like rising from the bottom of the ocean floor. He was almost awake.

    Drowsily, blearily, he peeled open his eyelids to find himself face down in his pillow, curled into a ball. He jumped out of bed, tripped on his sneakers, and stumbled to the bathroom, getting to the toilet in the nick of time.

    While there, he recalled his dream. He thought of how eagerly the fire ate up the house, how terrified the screams were from inside. He remembered what he felt as he watched it burn – relieved, satisfied, glad even – knowing he should feel ashamed. Because nobody, no good and decent person wishes for something so horrible to happen to their neighbor – even if that neighbor is an evil A-hole.

    But Jonah didn’t feel ashamed – not in his dream, and not now. There was no remorse, no regret… no guilt in wishing it had been real. He flushed the toilet, washed and dried his hands, and returned to bed. Within seconds he was asleep and dreaming again.


    Three Days Earlier – 10:04 PM

    Jonah was puzzled over the distant jangle of Cooper’s tags. He peeked out his bedroom window to find his dog digging madly near old man Maynor’s wine cellar. The owner came bounding out of his kitchen, chasing Cooper with a flat spade he kept beside his back door, yelling, cussing, and flapping his arms as if shooing away pigeons. And then he said something awful.

    “I’m gonna shoot ya in yer fuckin’ head, you come back ‘round here!”, Mr. Maynor shouted.

    Cooper barked defiantly. He kept his eyes on the old man while backing away, lunging at his feet every few steps when he got too close.

    Alarmed, Jonah bolted out of his room and down the stairs. How did Cooper get out? He must’ve left the screen door unlatched. And the gate; he must’ve left it open, too. His mom would be furious if she knew he’d been careless again – especially at this hour. According to mom, Peeping Toms and other riffraff were wandering the streets after 10:00 PM. How she’d reached that conclusion, he had no idea. But she was constantly nagging him to lock doors. Jonah remembered about half the time. He had the good sense to feel crappy about it, though.

    Cooper, having scampered back through the hole he’d dug and crawled out of earlier, was already waiting on the step, pawing at the door frame, panicked to be let inside, displaying an almost human fear of being pursued. Jonah pushed against the screen door. It opened easily… it wasn’t latched. Damn.

    Once he was in, Jonah reached down to pick him up. His hands slid through something slick and gummy. Mud. Cooper was covered in it. What was he trying to dig up? And why was Mr. Maynor so desperate for him to leave it alone?

    Jonah took him to the utility sink in the basement and rinsed out the dirt. After rubbing him dry with a Mickey Mouse beach towel, he extinguished the lights and they walked softly up the stairs.

    He was worried they’d awakened his mom. She’d be angry Cooper had gotten out; might even blame Jonah for Mr. Maynor getting mad and cussing him. She was frequently fielding grievances from their next door neighbor.

    He was a gruff, surly old geezer, always pointing a crooked, accusing finger at those living around him. Somebody stole his trash can, he’d say. Or somebody’s dog shit in his yard (everybody knew who he meant with that one), or Jonah’s personal favorite; “You fuckin’ nosey-bodies stay outta my bid’ness!”

    He liked to yell that from his front porch to no one in particular after fetching his newspaper from the lawn. He was sure they were invading his privacy, going through his mail, peeking in his windows – when really, no one wanted anything to do with him, much less make it a point to get in his “bid’nes”.

    Maynor didn’t care if these crazy antics made enemies of his neighbors. He didn’t seem to need friends, which might’ve made Jonah feel sorry for him, if he weren’t such a foul, repulsive human being. Jonah sometimes wondered if he had that crazy disease, skit-zo-something. But even if he did – crazy didn’t have to equal mean, and Maynor was all that and then some.

    Jonah cracked open his mom’s door and peeked inside. She was on her side under her comforter, snoring softly. Good. He tiptoed to his room, got out of his jeans and t-shirt and crawled between his bed sheets. Cooper was busy rolling his still damp sausage-body to-n’-fro on his doggie bed, his brush with ol’ man Maynor already forgotten.

    After adjusting his pillows and pulling his blanket up to his chin, Jonah reached for the thing on his nightstand – his touchstone, his talisman. He did this every night, in the same order; crawl into bed, adjust blanket, and before turning off the light – bid goodnight to Draco.

    Draco was a dragon. He lived on the corner of Jonah’s night stand. His solid brass body stood eight inches tall, and his wings spanned ten full inches. His gaping beak housed two rows of spiked teeth, and his reptilian skin was stamped with teardrop shaped scales. His tail sloped down and then up, its tip very much like a scorpion stinger.

    His eyes, though – his glowing red eyes… there was something about them, in them. Jonah swore at times they were actually seeing him.

    It seemed silly, especially at his age, to love something that did nothing but stand mutely on a flat surface. After all, Draco had no moveable parts, no mystical dragon voice, no ability to breathe fire or anything cool like that.

    Still, Jonah loved him. He had been a gift, given by his father on the day he left – the day Jonah turned seven.

    Birthdays were supposed to be festive occasions, and for the first time in his little boy life – that birthday was. His father had been unusually generous, handing Jonah a velvet-lined wooden box with great flourish. In it was a shiny, golden dragon with rubies for eyes. It came from Japan, his dad told him; from a tiny shop owned by a decrepit, one-eyed woman near the Navy shipyard, he’d said with a wink. Jonah remembered giggling; he was happy. He named the dragon Draco.

    To Jonah’s mom his father gave a jade necklace with matching earrings. She was over the moon. Thinking back now, it might have been the last time he saw her truly smile – the kind of smile that spills out from an overflowing heart.

    Yes, his seventh birthday was downright joyful. Until it wasn’t.

    There were no words to describe how he and mom felt when they saw his dad had already packed his things. He would be leaving again. This time for good. The gifts were to alleviate his guilt. Jonah understood that now.

    He learned later that his dad had another family; a wife and a daughter, living in Okinawa. He imagined them all together, surrounded by exotic plants and birds and butterflies. It made his stomach hurt to picture it, but he did it anyway – testing himself, seeing if he could stand it.

    He found he could.

    It was hard to believe the last time he saw his dad was five years ago. It felt as recent as this morning. Draco was the only thing, aside from the shape of Jonah’s eyes and the slump of his shoulders, that his dad had ever given him… the first and last thing.

    Pretty pathetic, Jonah thought and ran his fingers over Draco’s bumpy skin. The textured brass was worn smooth in places from years of handling. He had developed a habit, a nightly ritual of picking up the dragon before bed. He didn’t know when or why he started doing this, but something about it helped him sleep.

    He sat Draco back on the nightstand and said what he always said at the end of the day; “G’night, Draco. Keep watch… keep us safe.” And then he twisted the dragon around to face the bedroom door.

    Maybe that was what eased his sleep; knowing Draco was always watching, guarding and protecting – a lion at the gate. Jonah rolled over, switched off the lamp, and drifted into a heavy sleep.


    Three Days Later

    Cooper was dead. Jonah found him lying on his side under the wooden porch out back, stiff with rigor mortis. He must have died early that morning to be so rigid already. Jonah grasped his tiny, stumpy legs and slid him out. He then sat in the dirt with his lifeless little body, weeping like he hadn’t since he was seven.

    His mother tried her best to console him, saying she was sorry, he must have ‘gotten into something’ when she let him out that morning. But it was no use. He was beyond consoling. Cooper was his best friend; always there for him, with him nearly every waking moment. Cooper meant constancy, stability. How could he be dead?

    Just then Jonah heard a shuffle and the creak of a screen door from next door. And something else; something that made the hairs on his neck stand up.

    He heard laughter; a low, throaty chuckle. It terrified him. He did it, Jonah thought instantly. He killed my dog. Helpless fury surged through him as he listened to Maynor walk into his house and close the door.

    Jonah gathered Cooper up, took him to the north corner of their yard and buried him under the weeping willow, right where he used to enjoy napping; beneath the dangling branches dripping with leaves. He took a wooden board from their garden shed, carved Cooper’s name into it, dug out a line of soil, and hammered the wood into the ground.

    He sat next to Cooper’s grave then, running through every filed away memory of his boyhood with his dog. Later that evening was the worst part, though. Trudging up the stairs, getting ready for bed… none of it was right without Cooper there beside him. Even saying goodnight to Draco felt all wrong.

    He picked up the dragon and gazed at his fiery eyes and spiked teeth. He thought about dragon’s breath, wondering if, in some far away fantasy world, dragons could really breathe fire. Wouldn’t that be something, he thought; if a dragon could simply breathe on something, or someone, and set them ablaze – wouldn’t that be awesome?

    He thought of his neighbor; of his sinister laughter and the darkness it evoked. He imagined Draco flying overhead, breathing fire down onto his rooftop, onto his ugly head – burning him and his home down to the ground. Wouldn’t that be justice? Wouldn’t that be right?

    He put Draco on the nightstand, spun him to face the bedroom door, and tried to fall asleep. It took a long time, but finally – he slept.


    Later that night – 3:08 AM

    Jonah was on his bike again, riding down his street toward home. The cool night air smelled of recently cut grass and pending rain. As he neared his house, he heard a familiar snapping and popping; the sounds of a burning building.

    Then he saw Mr. Maynor’s house, just as it’d been before; consumed, overwhelmed with flames. He stopped in front of it. Again, he felt no heat, smelled no smoke. That’s because it isn’t real, he told himself. I’m dreaming again.

    And then, just like the last dream (sans the bladder pressure), he felt himself drifting. Up and up, into wakeful consciousness, out of his dream and into real life.

    Except something was different. The air was thick and acrid. He opened his eyes, struggling to see through the haze. His room was filled with fog, only it wasn’t fog. It was smoke. He watched as it floated in through a tear in the screen; a hole about ten inches wide… a hole that wasn’t there when he'd come back from the bathroom. The smoke danced and twirled, like a snake being charmed; a living entity on an unholy mission, coming to whisper a terrible secret.

    Jonah sat up when he heard the screaming; the screams of a man on fire.

    He rushed down the stairs and out the door. His mother was already outside. The street and lawns were crammed with neighbors, but nobody was trying to help. Nobody was rushing in with a stretched out water hose. No one was yelling “Call 9-1-1!” He saw no shocked dismay on anyone’s face, no tearful sympathy at what had befallen their neighbor.

    Mrs. Anderson, in a lavender bathrobe and pink sponge curlers, was holding an orange cat, absently stroking its fur. Lillian Smart, the pretty girl from his science class, was barefoot in her pajamas, standing between her stoically silent parents. Arnold Pena, the Puerto Rican man with the red muscle car calmly smoked his cigarette.

    There was no sense of urgency, no panic. No one seemed to care about the house burning down or the owner inside. Surely they heard the screaming; they had to. And still nobody moved. They just stood there, gawking.

    The heat was fierce. The thunderous clamor of walls caving in was terrifying. The screams of Mr. Maynor were even more terrifying. Jonah’s mom reached out and pulled him to her side, wrapping a protective arm around him. He put his arm around her, too. They listened in hushed horror as Mr. Maynor burned to death in his home.

    Something about it felt weirdly normal – as if in some anonymous, unspoken discussion – they had all agreed; he deserved this… it was meant to be.

    And then something caught Jonah’s eye. Something not right. Something that must be a mistake.

    Perched on Mr. Maynor’s cement porch, facing what had once been the front door, was something Jonah could never mistake for anything else; something that defied all logic.

    There on that square patch of concrete sat Draco. Except his wings were much wider. And his tail – was it twitching? His shiny brass surface reflected orange and scarlet, making him look like he was also on fire. Jonah stole a glance at his mother, wondering; is she seeing him, too? But she just kept staring at the flames.

    What stopped Jonah cold was Draco’s face. His beak was so overstretched, he was certain it would break apart. His eyes were glowing a bright, vivid red, as if lit from within. They seemed to be looking at the burning house and looking at him – doing both, somehow, at the same time.

    And then from Draco’s long, scale covered throat and wide open jowls, Jonah saw a thick, brilliant stream of what could only be fire.
     
  9. A.M.P.
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    [The Last Dragon]
    [1250 Words]


    It was the last day and everything was going wrong, or running late or still held by glue and possibly paper clips. Supplies were in short order and men even more so. The war preoccupied itself by taking everything and spreading it too thin or simply losing it to the enemy.

    The workshop, nothing but planks with a think paper roof, was the best he could build and the misery of the few workers he had was plain. Sammy complained about his sore feet, Brent over the lack of space, and Marcy always had something new to say. It had been a gruesome month and these last three days had been the worst. The constant sound of machinery was the only positive thing; at least work was being done.

    “Joel, there’s an issue with the reconfigurator. It’s-“ Brent ran up to Joel, wiping his brow with a thick greasy cloth. It dirtied his face more than anything.

    “Just reset it and calibrate it for air travel. It’s an old land model.” Joel sighed and waved him off. Construction was delayed and now simply late. The enemy was at the door and it was up to him to see this misshapen hunk of metal get into the fray before it was too late.

    “Yes, sir.” Brent ran off to finish the head. It would soon be attached to the main body and then— well, hopefully it would work. The Good God above knows they only have one chance at this and the men at the front lines sorely need it.

    “How’s the stoma- power supply?” Joel hollered over the sound of whirring machinery.

    “It’s loaded and ready. It’s pretty small but I think that with the salvaged parts of the early land models and some of my genius tinkering they’ll last as long as the full sized flyers.”

    “Excellent. Now how abou-“

    “Shh! Quiet everyone!” Marcy yelled over the noise, turning off the nearby machines that were occupied with welding the whole thing together. “Quick. Listen to this.”

    “Marcy, we’re behind schedule already-“

    “Shut up!” She yelled and stared intently at the small radio before her. Joel approached, followed by Brett and Sammy to see what the fuss was all about.

    “Six is down, so is one through four,” a voice spoke on quickly on the airwaves, desperation clinging to every word. “I can’t see the men below, there’s just smoke.”

    “Five, retreat. There is nothing you can do,” a gruff, commanding voice shouted.

    “No can do, General Ram. I’m leaking fuel and my guidance is shot.” The first man laughed, as if it was funny he were about to die. “I see the behemoth at the rear of the enemy charge, sir. I’m going to dive it.”

    “No, damn it! We need every machine we can save. Just land toward the forest out of the-“ There was a loud fuzzy like sound and deafening crunching from the radio. “Number five, do you read me? Five? Jonathan?” There was no answer, and Marcy knew it was time to turn off the radio. They had wasted enough time, and this had killed whatever morale the four of them had left.

    “Hey, Joel-“ Sammy began, unsure of how he wanted to ask.

    “What’s the point, Sir?” Brent asked plainly. “Let’s just run. Fleet Nine lost. That was our last hope. Those Behemoths destroyed all of them. What’s one, badly designed, dragon going to do?” His lost hope was plain to see and mirrored on the face of the others. Joel knew it was on his too.

    “The point, Brent? Is that what you want to know?” Joel chuckled, thinking he may understand just why that poor pilot had laughed as well just moments ago. “Our country is lost. I know Marcy’s family and my own are all dead. Your home was burnt to the ground, wasn’t it, Sammy?” The boy nodded. “What did you lose, Brent?”

    “Same as all of you. Everything.” Brent spoke hard, the anger apparent.

    “Then that’s the point, Brent. We have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. We can’t win. We’re just waiting for our time to come. Probably within a few hours now that Fleet Nine is lost.”

    “So let’s make the best of it. There’s some good whiskey I stashed in the back-“ Brent made to leave but Joel’s raised hand stopped him.

    “There will be lots of time left for that, I promise you. But let’s finish this dragon. This last dragon.” Joel stated.

    “Why?” Sammy leaned in, curious.

    “We created a wonderful thing, a fully conscious and living machine. It flies through the sky, acts on its own individual whims, and allows us to play with it and give it fuel when it’s hungry and in exchange it protects us from harm.”

    “Joel…” Marcy put a hand to her heart.

    “I should have destroyed it, like I was supposed to but I kept one. A heart.”

    “You have any idea how illegal that it? What if the enemy got their hands on it?” Brent seemed more surprised than concerned.

    “But they didn’t!” Joel answered harshly. “It was the last heart that I knew in existence. It takes years and more knowledge that I could ever hope to earn to create. I couldn’t destroy something so precious. A potential life.”

    “We’re not supposed to make living dragons anymore,” Sammy said. “But, why give it life just so it can be ordered to go into battle and die?”

    “We’ll give it life, yes, but not to die. We’ll give it a quick program to follow when it boots up. It’ll run from this place far far away until it’s safe from our enemies. There, it’ll gain control of itself and live a happy life.”

    “What if they find it? Have their behemoths destroy it and steal that technology?”

    “So be it,” Joel shrugged. “Our country is lost but perhaps it’ll be of use to the others and maybe, just maybe, they’ll end this war for power one day.”

    “I’m in!” Marcy grinned. “Let’s make a baby dragon, just like before. One last hurrah!”

    “Count me in too.” Sammy cheered and turned the machines back on.

    “Nice knowing you, sir. Where’s that heart?” Brent grinned.

    It took the better part of two hours to finish building and that time was alongside the approaching sound of gunfire and bombs. However, none dared stop working to bring the last dragon to life. It’s skeletal like frame glistened in the light a faint sandy brown and the heart a deep pulsing purple. It was complete and all that remained was to attach the stomach stocked with fuel to the heart.

    “Finished programing it to run away?” Joel asked, his hand on the valves.

    “They’ll never find.” Sammy nodded.

    “Let’s hope so.” Joel released the valves and all the supporting frames fell off the dragons one by one in loud metal clanging crashes.

    The dragon gave a low but strong growl as the wings spread to enact the escape program Sammy had built into it. A baby, with no guidance or a moment to enjoy being born, flew violently out the roof and headed far away from them all in less than a minute.

    “We forgot to name it.” Marcy said.

    “Someone will find it, and name it. They’ll love and cherish it, just like we do.” Joel hugged her close. “Our last hope.”

    “So, drinking time?” Brent asked.

    “Sure, one last drink, before the enemy and their behemoths take us.” It was nice, the silence. The work was done. Nothing left to worry or hope for. Just silence and peace, and the pleasure of one last drink.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2014

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