Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Featured Story: The City Dragon

Found this really engaging short story on Writing.com. Written by Clefton Twain, it was listed under the "Mythical Creatures" category. It's short, so please don't stop reading until you reach the end. This tale reminds me of the "Why did the chicken cross the road" joke.

Curious? Then read on...


The City Dragon
By Clefton Twain

Eliot Schmidt walked out his house just like he had done every workday for the past five years. He tucked his briefcase under his arm while fumbling with his keys to lock the front door. He slipped them into his pocket. I hope it's still there, he thought as he turned to go to his car.

It was. It always was.

Eliot looked up to see it wrapped around and clinging to the smokestack like a barnacle on the underside of a ship. A dragon. Bright green with wings of gold, the creature was there every morning as if to greet Eliot on his way to work or when he got the paper on weekends. It had taken up a position there two years ago, much to the dismay of the city management.

At first, nobody knew what to do with a dragon. What does one do with a dragon? It wasn't going Godzilla on the city, destroying everything and eating everyone in sight. No, it simply clutched the smokestack, wrapping its long tail around the pipe, and stayed there until sometime around noon when it would simply fly off, only to return the next day.

There had been talk of exterminating the creature. Mayor Johnson had raised issue with safety concerns. "Something that big on the loose is unsafe for the city and its citizens," he had proclaimed, banging his fist on the podium. But days and weeks passed. Nobody did anything and the dragon continued its peaceful visits.

Initially, the people had been both awed and frightened. Who wouldn't be? If movies and stories had taught him anything, Eliot knew that dragons ate people and breathed fire, acting like savage animals on the loose. Again, no destruction, no deaths.

As time passed, most of the fascination with the dragon slowly calmed down and people eventually came to accept the critter as being a normal part of life. The television news magazines had done more than enough so-called journalistic pieces on the dragon. Eliot remembered the last one he saw--supposedly the dragon had a mate and they were getting married! Good for them!

But Eliot was still intrigued--still captivated by the dragon. His wonder and excitement never waned. The reporters never got it right. They had never tried talking to it! Maybe it just wants some company? A friend? So much had been reported, yet they knew so little.

Well, I'd better get to work. I've got that meeting at 9:30.

Eliot got into his car, setting his briefcase on the seat next to him, and rolled out of the driveway. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was playing on the radio. They sure do like this song. Or they really hate it and think playing it all the time will torture us.

"Kurt!" he yelled, putting the car into first gear. "English, man! Sing in English!" Laughing to himself, he headed down the road to the stop sign where cars streaked past on the busy road before him. He flicked on his turn signal, the flashing right arrow reminding him of which way he was to go.

As he watched the cars go by, his mind wandered back to the dragon. Maybe it was a mystical protector, sent by someone to watch over the city? If a dragon was real, maybe wizards and trolls were too? That would certainly make life more interesting! More interesting than a nine-to-fiver for five days a week.

He anxiously tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel as the song neared its end. Finally a break in the traffic appeared. He tapped harder, watching the gap, looking both left and right but not moving. A car rolled up behind him, horn blaring at him. Eliot looked both ways and then, with squealing tires, turned left.

"You're going to be late," he muttered to himself, still tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel. The song had given way to commercials but he hadn't noticed. "What are you doing? Turn around!"

But he kept driving, turning left at the first stoplight and heading toward the power plant. The dragon hadn't moved at all. Maybe it was sleeping? It took up nearly a third of the smokestack, positioned almost perfectly in the middle. I wonder if it sleeps on there? How does it keep from falling off? Eliot's foot pushed harder on the gas but quickly had to slam on the brakes, nearly rear-ending the car in front of him as it turned right onto a side street.

"My fault," he said as if the driver could hear him. "I apologize." He waved to the other driver and, once they were out of his way, hit the gas.

Approximately five minutes later he was sitting in his car in the gravel parking lot next to the power plant. The lot was only half full, probably awaiting the influx of people arriving at 8 o'clock. He took a deep breath, staring straight ahead at the sign in front of his space. "Reserved for Municipal Power Plant Employees. All violators will be towed at owner's expense." He sat for another minute or two, his mind furiously working on all sorts of thoughts running through his head. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he wiped it away with the sleeve of his suit coat.

To Hell with it.

The car door squeaked as he got out, slamming it behind him. He walked nervously around the fence, gravel crunching beneath his feet, to the other side where he could get a better view of the smokestack and, more importantly, the dragon. He'd never been this close before! Of course many people had come this close but he had always decided the dragon needed space. It would be intruding if he were to get too close. Dragons probably need their space, right? By doing this, he was violating that law.

Finally, he came to the perfect spot. He stood on shaky legs and looked up at the magnificent creature wrapped around the smokestack. It's so damn big! The creature's bright green scales were a stark contrast to the drab black tube upon which it currently perched. Eliot could only stare, rubbing his hands together nervously.

He wasn't sure exactly how long he stood there, watching. He figured it must have been at least ten minutes. Several employees walked past him on their way to work but didn't stop to talk or get a look themselves. They must be used to this by now, seeing it every day. They don't even recognize the wonder anymore.

The dragon was still. Was he expecting it to notice him and suddenly decide to do something? It was a dragon! What did it care? Still, it would've been nice.

Finally, Eliot mustered the words and spoke.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Dragon! What are you doing here?"

No answer.

Eliot kept thinking of all the mystical reasons why the dragon would be here, in his city, on this smokestack. Fighting evil? Waiting for its friends to arrive? What could possibly be its purpose? Could it have somehow been summoned from a mystical world and now it was stuck here? Eliot was nervously shaking with anticipation and excitement. Surely the dragon had heard him!

But the dragon still did not move or make a sound. Not at all. Its tail did not twitch. Its head did not turn to acknowledge him. Nothing. Eliot continued to stare up at the beast for several minutes after, glued to the spot. Still nothing happened. Finally, disappointment crept into his heart and he sighed.

"Well, I just thought I'd give it a try," he muttered sadly and then he turned to go back to his car. What did you expect to happen? It's probably like trying to talk to a dog or something.

As he started back, he heard a sound from behind him and he quickly turned to see what it was. There, a mere few feet from him, was the dragon's head--it had climbed down! Its eyes looked over him as if appraising an object carefully, taking everything in. The rest of its body still clung to the smokestack as it stretched its long neck out. Eliot was speechless. For the first time in his life, his mind had gone completely blank. He nearly wet himself.

Nothing happened for what seemed like hours as Eliot and the dragon stared at each other in stark silence. Eliot's feet told him to run but he stayed planted on the spot. Sweat poured down his face but he made no move to dry it off.

The dragon sniffed Eliot, its nostrils flaring with each breath. I've made it mad and it's going to breathe fire on me and then eat me! This is it. I'm dead. Eliot wanted to close his eyes and wait for the end--it would be over quick, he figured. But his eyes were transfixed on the dragon itself. Nobody had ever seen it this close before.

And then it spoke. Its voice was like a low-rumbling engine, only much more gentle sounding--almost like a very deep cat's purr. It spoke slowly, taking its time.

"Why am I here?" it asked.

"Y-yes, sir. I mean, dragon...sir," Eliot stammered. He couldn't believe he was talking to the dragon! His nerves subsided and his excitement returned. Whereas before he could barely move before he now wanted to jump up and down.

"Because," the dragon replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "This smoke pipe is warm."

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