DRAGON HUNTING - (c)2001 Nathaniel Simpson

Only the other day we were speaking of dragons, Thomas and I, but if I had known I would run into one, I think our conversation would have been just a little different. Thomas was of the opinion that dragons didn't exist.

"If dragons exist, then why haven't I seen one?" he asked.

"Well, maybe they live underground," I suggested.

"You're not going to convince me that Old Faithful is a dragon's teapot." Thomas snorted. "Are you trying to tell me that you believe in dragons?"

And so the conversation went. I managed to convince Thomas that I didn't really believe in dragons, that it was only something to talk about. I finished my coffee break, and went back to my desk. Back to the same mind-numbing routine, listening to fluorescent lights buzzing and breathing the pseudo-sterile conditioned air, feeling my life seep away into the dark, polished desk. I passed the time with a bottomless cup of coffee and daydreams of a dragon ransacking the place.

And then, about five minutes before closing, my boss walked in with an armful of papers that could only have been The Complete History of Every Place in the World in 500 volumes. He deposited the pile on my desk with a snicker, and a command to have it sorted and filed yesterday. As usual, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I stared at the stack of papers, my mind blank. And then my boss walked out.

I’d only been considering quitting this job for a year. Every time I finally worked the nerve to tell my boss, he would have something waiting for me, something that would sink my hopes of ever moving on. Something like that stack of paper. I sighed deeply, and grabbed the top paper from the stack. I stared at it, started to file it - then threw it down. It could wait a day.

I survived the drive home, even though all the homicidal drunken maniacs in the city had apparently decided to follow me. There is something to be said for small towns where everything is in walking distance. When I finally pulled into my drive, I gave a small prayer of thanks before I turned the car off.

I walked into my house, grabbed a frozen dinner, and microwaved it. I turned on the coffeepot, and waited for the microwave to finish, listening for the bell that isn’t a bell at all – just an electronic counterfeit. I’ve always hated frozen dinners – the dehydrated meat, the pale green vegetables, the taste of Styrofoam impregnating every bite. After picking idly at sickeningly orange carrots that squeaked against my teeth, I threw the dinner away. I grabbed a cup of black coffee, and stepped into the back yard to check on my dog, and that’s where I found the dragon.

It was late in the afternoon, but still light enough for me to see my dog, Orion. He was cowering against the fence, and he looked a little...scorched. Orion is a big, black labrador retriever, and he loves to play. He usually jumps all over me when I go outside. Only this time, he didn’t seem very happy. When I tried to call him, but he wouldn't come, I knew something was wrong. He was growling. A deep low growl, and he was looking at something in his doghouse. Something with shining red eyes. I frowned, and ran into the house for a flashlight.

When I came back out, I turned on the flashlight and very carefully shone it around inside the doghouse. Curled up on Orion's blankets was the dragon. He really was a cute little fellow. At least, I think it was a he. I don’t know much about dragons, so I wouldn’t know how to tell. But he was small, about the size of a chihuahua, and green. There was a row of needlelike spines on his back, and two tiny silvery wings that couldn't possibly help him fly. And there were two little wisps of smoke like steam from a coffee cup rising up from his nostrils. He smelled strange, sort of a combination of oranges and burnt toast. I walked closer to the doghouse so that I could see him more clearly. He had small scales, green with gold edges, and a look on his face that reminded me of the Cheshire cat.

I really should've been more careful. I mean, Orion with his coat scorched off in places should've been warning enough. But the dragon looked so cute, so small, so harmless. I reached out to pick him up, and all of a sudden his teeth were in my hand. Not just little teeth, either. This thing had teeth that belonged on a T-rex. I started screaming and flinging my arm around trying to shake off this little dragon. Finally he let go, and my flailing arm catapulted him across the yard, where he landed on top of the doghouse. I glared at him, and he bared his teeth at me. And then the really bad thing happened. He made a little coughing noise, and a puff of smoke appeared. When I realized what was happening, I turned to run, but I was too late. All of a sudden this little dragon threw a blanket of fire at me that made a flamethrower look like a cigarette lighter.

I did the old trick of "stop, drop, and roll," only I left out the "stop" part. I managed to roll right up to the back door of my house, and drag myself inside without being severely burned. When I got inside, I just stood there for a second, panting. When I couldn’t hear the roar of flames any longer, I peered through the window. The little dragon was still there, on top of the doghouse, all puffed up with pride. Just looking at him made me mad.

That's when I remembered that I had an old shotgun in the attic. It belonged originally to my grandfather, or so I'm told. I'm sure that if the neighbors could have seen me, the pure glee on my face when I pulled it out from under a stack of old boxes, they would’ve immediately packed up and moved away. I found some shells in one of the boxes, and I walked down the stairs, feeding shells into the old gun, laughing like a maniac.

When I got to the back I peeked out carefully. The dragon was still there. I don't think the dragon knew much about people, because when I opened the door and raised the shotgun, he just stood there looking at me. I felt bad, because he looked so cute, but with blood dripping from my hand and my hair singed, I pushed compassion aside and pulled the trigger.

When I pulled myself back to my feet (those old guns can really kick!) the dragon was still there. He didn't even look scratched. I must have missed him, but the wall behind me was peppered with small holes. The pellets had ricocheted, and it was a good thing that I was knocked off my feet or I might not have lived to learn from my mistake. As it was, I was pretty upset. That dragon looked at me like he was laughing, and stretched his ridiculous wings. And flew away.

I still can't believe his wings supported him. But at the time, with the echo of the shot still in the air and the neighbors coming outside to see what was going on, I wasn't really thinking about that. I was mad. Here was this tiny little dragon torching my dog, and then me, and not sticking around to give me a chance for revenge.

I went inside to bandage my bleeding hand. I must’ve been somewhat hysterical, because I was laughing and crying at the same time. As I secured the bandage around my hand, Orion barked and scratched at the door, so I let him in. I looked around, and the dragon was gone, so I closed the door and collapsed on my couch in the living room.

When I woke up the next morning, my hand was feeling better. I took a shower and rinsed most of the soot from my hair. I pulled some clothes on, and headed out to my car. The morning traffic was no better than the afternoon traffic, and as I dodged suicidal old women and serial killers disguised as businessmen, I made a mental note to look for a new vehicle, preferably something that could fly.

I reached the office and grabbed a cup of coffee on my way in. I sat down at my desk, and groaned. I had hoped that at least part of the stack of papers would vanish to the same place as all of those missing “other” socks, but my luck was off. I reached for the first paper, and that’s when my boss came in.

“You still haven’t finished filing those?” he asked.

“Sorry, sir, but I just got started on them.” I waved the paper in my hand for emphasis.

“But I gave them to you yesterday!” he shouted. He was definitely not looking happy.

“Well, sir, I would’ve started on them earlier, only I had a little problem last night and I was a little late.” I lifted my bandaged hand, and my boss stared at it suspiciously.

“What kind of problem?” he asked.

I felt trapped. “Well, I was bit by a dragon last night.”

“Oh really. Is that all you can say?” He crossed his arms and stared down at me with an office-bleached face that looked as if it had been carved from a bar of soap. And that’s when it hit me.

I looked around. The desk with its grim shine, the pale, eternal fluorescent lighting, the pasty face of my boss, the menacing stack of papers all stared back at me. And I thought about the dragon, and the fire, and the blood from my hand, and suddenly the office felt constricting, lifeless, and fake – a trap that I knew how to escape now. I took a deep breath, and I looked him straight in the eye.

“No. I also wanted to tell you - as of right now, I quit.”