Editor’s Note: Long term readers will recall that we running a series by Luke Haines, our UK Editor and Correspondence. It seems to be about dragons and Baby Boomers and the demise of the environment. And apparently there’s some comedy involved. But we can’t be sure. It is way too complicated. And we’re such limited intellects.
As my old mother used to say, “There’s nothing more terrifying than a recently burgled mythological creature.”
Strange woman, my mother.
Still, she may well have been right. As I cowered in a ditch with the interchangeable dwarves, the dragon Boomer stormed from its mountain lair and sprayed a vast arc of flame into the evening sky that lit the barren grasslands and withered the few remaining leaves on the trees for fifty yards in any direction. “FRAUD!” Boomer raged. “LIAR! MOUNTEBANK AND THIEF!”
“Is he talking about you?” asked Samey.
“It could be someone else?” I hoped.
“FOUL SMELLING DRUNKARD AND JOURNALIST IMPERSONATOR!”
“…No, okay, that’s me,” I said.
The dragon turned back towards its lair and let out another great jet of flame, so long and hot that it even sent tongues of flame crackling from the secret entrance that I’d used, high up on the mountainside. “He’s probably trying to make sure there’s nobody left hiding inside, but he’ll melt all the gold if he keeps doing that!” said Studly. “Yeah,” said Trotsky, angrily. “And don’t tell me any of it will trickle down to the villagers!”
The dragon surged into the air and caught itself effortlessly on its outstretched wings, beating them with a noise like thunder and rising high above the plain, like the other kind of plane, except not for woodworking. English is confusing. Anyway, the point is, the dragon flew off.
“Where do you think he’s going?” asked Studly.
“Well, I told him I worked for a magazine, so he’ll probably head towards the nearest place to get quality writing.”
“Liberal Resistance.net?” asked Samey.
“Stop kissing ass!” barked Studly.
“It won’t take long for him to realise that I can’t have gotten far on foot,” I continued, “So he’ll probably circle back to Laketown and assume I’m there. We should probably warn them. Or else head into the mountain and loot as much gold as we can, because it is jam packed in there and we’re not gonna get a better opportunity.”
The Dwarves gave me one of those judgey, “save the townsfolk” looks en masse.
“Fine, fine!” I said, irritably. “We’ll have to hurry. Who’s the fastest over the ground out of all of us?!”
The Dwarves continued looking at me, silently. Well, looking up at me, if we’re honest, because they all had short legs and-
“God dammit.” I said. I clambered out of the ditch and started running towards town, stopping only in a thicket to empty the jewels from my underwear and bury them. Never run with your underpants full of jewels, my mother used to tell me.
Strange woman, my mother.
It was a mile to Laketown. An Olympic level runner could have covered that in four minutes, which meant that an alcoholic burglar-for-hire like me who’d already been up and down a mountain that day arrived at the edge of town somewhere around the seven-or-eight minute mark. I wheezed to a stop outside a lookout tower and took a moment to regain enough breath to shout.
“Dr… DRAGON!” I managed to yell to the lookout.
“At the Inn?” he said. “Not tonight, but next Wednesday they have a female impersonator named Rural Splendour.”
“No,” I panted, “Dragon! Fire breathing kind! Coming this way! Rampage! Burning! That kind of thing!”
The lookout’s expression changed to one of horror and he began frantically ringing a warning bell and blowing a warning horn. Then he started beating a warning drum for good measure. The whole effect was pretty catchy, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it as just then an ear-splitting roar pierced the clouds to announce that Boomer was drawing near. The townsfolk began to scatter off of the streets into their wooden, thatched houses, then realised that that might not be the best course of action and ran back out into the open, then didn’t like that either and sort of hopped from foot to foot making anxious noises until someone shouted “To the lake!” and the whole crowd ran towards the lakeshore and dove in. Companies of archers began to rush to the row of wooden stakes that comprised the town wall, knocking arrows and pressing makeshift helmets onto their heads and applying factor five million sun cream in the hopes of protection. One guy had marshmallows on the spikes of his home made armour, and I couldn’t help but admire his moxie.
With another terrifying roar, Boomer signalled his arrival high above, spraying fire against the heavens before he began his dive towards the town, an angry comet on wings of death, his eyes glowing with malice as his jaws glowed with flame. The first company of archers loosed a fusillade that burned and melted in a great gout of flame from the monster’s jaws even before the arrows found their mark, the few charred sticks that survived bouncing harmlessly off the hard scales of Boomer’s head and neck or the glittering armour of his jeweled belly.
Then he was upon them.
Boomer’s great ebony talons tore the roof off the first building with terrifying ease, and the great best wheeled in the air and spat a torrent of flame into the now uncovered butcher shop below. It smelled amazing. Then the archers reloaded and harmlessly peppered the dragon with arrows again and he turned his fire on them.
That smelt pretty good, too. Just… I mean sadder. Obviously sadder. Those men had families and all. But still, I’m calling ‘em like I smell ‘em.
Boomer alighted on the rubble and contemptuously smashed another building to kindling with his tail, before craning his serpent’s neck to pick a new target. Somewhere around here I realised I needed to be doing a lot less reporting on the action and a lot more running like hell for the lake. I took off through the mudd covered streets, adrenaline propelling me effortlessly even after my run to town. I heard screams and the splintering of wood behind me, and the roar of the monster mixing with the roar of the growing inferno he created as he rampaged across Laketown, glorying in his destructive power.
I had nearly reached the lake where the townsfolk were bobbing like newly homeless apples when another company of archers rounded the corner and barrelled past me, charging toward the doom-laden whoosh of enormous wings that signalled the dragon taking to the air again. I dived out of their way rather than be trampled by them, and rolled onto my back, scooting on my hands and heels and ass towards water even as I scanned the sky to see where the attack would come from. In that moment, high above the burning town, Boomer looked down with his eagle-sharp vision and saw me. His great reptilian maw broke into that smile reserved only for those who are cruel and about to inflict punishment, and I scrabbled onto my feet and started running.
An eerie silence followed me and I realised with horror that the dragon was dropping like a stone, wings back for speed, homing in on me alone as my useless, clumsy, human legs tried vainly to propel me towards the lake faster than the giant hellbeast could fall. In the endless silence I heard the monster draw its vast breath, felt my legs pumping, the lake thirty feet away, twenty, the ground around me reflecting the coming fireball as the dragon began its deadly expulsion of fire and vengeance. I leaped for the water, my final roll of the dice, my last dumb idea in a life filled with them, my eyes screwed shut against the roasting agony that would claim me before I could land in the safety of the lake.
There was an enormous, splintering crash behind me. Although I wasn’t really paying attention. Funny thing about lakes, they’re not that deep at the edges, a lot of the time. So, if you sprint towards one and throw yourself at it, you land in about a foot of water, which is enough to get you wet and break your nose, but not enough for you to submerge. It also looks pretty anticlimactic, so we won’t dwell on it.
I rolled onto my back and lay there in the shallows, cupping my newly broken nose and making one of those long, pained exhaling noises that you make when something hurts too much to concentrate on doing anything louder. I brushed my hand against it, accidentally, and saw stars for a second, which made me realise my eyes were still closed. I hawked blood out of the back of my throat, spat, used a handful of lake water to wash more blood carefully off my face, then forced myself to open my eyes and survey the scene, blinking.
The dragon Boomer lay across the buildings at the edge of the lake, its enormous body sprawled over them, the neck craning down towards me and the great head laying drunkenly on its side at the water’s edge. The forked tongue lolled from its mouth and the eyes were empty of focus, or even of the reptilian malice that had lived there before. I stared at Boomer for a long moment, unsure of what could have felled such a leviathan, but the dragon’s ribs didn’t move and the great, sucking bellows sound of its mighty breaths had stopped. Boomer was dead.
I flopped back in the water for a moment, trying to come to terms with my near-death and a lot of other things besides, when I slowly became aware of a sloshing sound. I squelched to my feet and looked back out at the lake to see the townsfolk swimming toward me – or rather towards the dragon corpse next to me. I trudged ashore to try to make sense of what had happened.
The company of archers I had dodged on my way to the lake were stood in the street, whooping and hugging each other and carrying one of their number on their shoulders. “What happened?” I asked. They turned to face me and let the man down from their shoulders. He strode forward, looking dark and sexy and nothing like I did, even if I hadn’t just crawled out of a lake.
“We have slain the dragon!” he beamed, proudly.
“You did this?!” I said.
“Yes!” He cried, cheerfully. “D. S. X. Machina, at your service! I’m the town archer and playboy.” He pumped my hand enthusiastically.
“…And you killed that enormous dragon with your bow and arrows…”
“With my lucky arrow,” he said. “Been in my family generations, that arrow. Plus, a little bird told me that there was a chink in the beast’s armour – a spot on his underside where there were no jewels or gold to protect his vitals, perhaps as a quirk of how he slept…”
“Right,” I said. “I mean… I knew that. Just… that seems lucky and under-written.”
“Well,” he laughed, “Let’s hope if they ever make a film about all this, they expand on my back story and motivation. If nothing else, it will pad out the run-time and maybe stretch the whole thing into a trilogy.”
“Maybe,” I agreed.
“But enough of this fourth-wall banter! We must celebrate!”
I felt a little silly, trying to celebrate with wet clothes and a broken nose, but pretty much everyone had wet clothes and it’s not every day that you get to be part of a dragon-killing celebration, so I felt it would be rude to decline. Also, lying in a lake had served to make me feel and smell fresher than I had all day. And drinking would make my nose hurt less.
I woke up in a pig shed.