Tag Archives: short fiction

The Grimmest Error Reaps Death

As Alice set aside her work for the day, her sheets of written text, an uncomfortable feeling stole over her. She’d committed an egregious error of some kind. The pages sat in a heap on her desk. Could she sort through them at this late hour? She didn’t think so. Her employer was not a man to mess with. The sky glowed orange behind her–not with evening, but with morning.

Alice had worked herself to the bone over this document. She had worked herself to skin and bones. Her hair, long and thin, hung in a ponytail sheath down her back. It was her last vestige of youth with its golden sheen, but the roots were ash. This work had aged her, and she had worked with such diligence, too. Yet even diligence wasn’t enough to avoid fatal errors. And make no mistake: her employer would view the error as fatal. This fatality could affect her family if she allowed it to. But she wouldn’t allow it. She would offer her own life instead.

Armed with the ream of pages, she carried the document up the hill to her master’s residence. After his secretary admitted her, she placed the document at his feet, and then bowed to her knees.

“I made an error, and I don’t have time to fix it,” she whispered, her eyes downcast to the stone floor.

“Please show me your face,” he said.

She raised her face, but not her body. She didn’t dare stand in his presence, nor did she dare look directly at him. She raised her face and stared into the corners of her eyes.

“What do you propose to do about it?”

“I know I must give my life for it. If I give my life, will you protect my family?”

“I am now, and have always been a fair judge. I accept your offer. The Grim Reaper will come for you at midnight. Set your house in order. I won’t allow him to touch the other members of your family.”

“Thank you.”

Alice trembled from the release of tensed muscles. For so many years, she’d worked on that document, her body as cramped as her writing hand, bent over her enormous desk. Her desk now sat empty, and she wouldn’t return to it. She would spend her last hours with her husband and children.

She and her family lived in the upper portion of her father’s house. Due to her husband’s low income, and her lack of one, they remained a multi-generational family, despite Alice’s plans for future autonomy. Her windfall was to come after her work’s completion, but now that riches were no longer an option, they would have to learn to live with even less–no mother, no wife, no daughter. How could she break it to them? They had tirelessly supported her project for years.

Somehow, she managed. She broke the truth, and they accepted it in the way that inevitable truth must be swallowed. Her older children understood, but her younger ones didn’t. However, older and younger alike decided not to dwell on it, and most likely for the same reasons. The young ones didn’t understand, yet they understood sadness, and they attempted to avoid it at all cost.

The little ones played; the older children read. Alice cooked dinner and cleaned up the kitchen and put the little ones to bed upstairs. Back downstairs, her husband and two eldest daughters sat silently at the kitchen table, their arms spread across the surface as if in defeat. Alice’s father didn’t seem to know what to do. He wandered the house–he picked up his guitar and strummed it. He slid a Robin Mark album in the player. Maybe songs of God would drive the darkness away. Of course, they couldn’t. This kind of death–contractual–was firmly entrenched in the physical world and in its tangible words. It contained no spiritual message.

For the last few hours before midnight, Alice tried to forget her fate. She sat with her husband and her beautiful eldest daughters and drank tea with them. With every space left inside her soul, she soaked up her daughters’ images–their long hair and soft gray eyes, which they turned from her. One scrolled through the music selection on her Android, and the other traced pictures on the wood grain of the table, invisible worlds that kept to the boundaries of her finger. Alice offered coffee to her husband, and he accepted it, though he didn’t take a drink. He slipped into a half-catatonic state, which Alice couldn’t blame him for.

At a few minutes to midnight, her father pointed to the time, and desperation filled Alice’s soul. She ran upstairs and shook her little ones awake long enough to choke out I love you to each. Her eight-year-old sleepily opened her eyes, wrapped her arms around Alice’s neck, and mumbled something that sounded like I know. Her son’s eyes flickered. He said nothing.

She ran back downstairs just as the wind rattled the glass in the windows. Lightning split the darkness and thunder cracked, and Alice found it ironic that her actual ending would be the cliche sort she’d always avoided in her writing. Death would come on the wings of a stormy night, and how could it be any other way? The lights flashed off and back on; the Robin Mark album petered out with a crackle of static.

The door flung itself open by an unseen force. Whatever happened, she would remain calm. She had no other choice. When she glanced at her family at the table, they looked away, stared into the table surface, and Alice hoped they were imagining a different life there. On the other side of her, her right side, her father stood grinding his teeth, his jaw muscles twitching. Her father’s pallor faded and his eyes glazed.

Finally, she faced the open doorway. This was the only way out–the only way to pay for her mistake. The Grim Reaper rolled up, his legs attached to metallic rollers. He groaned from the rust of centuries. He towered as tall as the house, his metal jaws attached to a swing loader. At his side, two children in white gowns hovered, waiting. They floated peacefully, unafraid of death. Their faces bore no expression, and they didn’t move or flinch, even as the swing loader swung down toward Alice’s skin-and-bones figure. It would snatch her up, and she would weigh nothing to its iron form. It opened its jaws, ready.

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The Sea, The Bear, and the Jay

image by Emille Domschot © 2012

You were a young mom, then, but as much an old crone as you were in childhood. You lived in a strange town, an empty, rain-gray place painted blue at the edges. You scuffed behind your family through the sand that edged up to broken sidewalks. Behind you, the gray waves softened their approach to earth. They soothed and caressed, rather than raging and stealing everything in sight to carry back to the belly of open sea. The waves seemed to sigh, “Sh, sh. She’s still asleep, don’t wake her.”

In itself, this was disturbing, though you couldn’t determine when the flow had changed. So you joined it, in last place, behind a bear of a man at the head and a row of stair step children who wore faded jeans washed out by the gray and blue air. You looked down, and you followed their scuffed white sneakers, off-brands all. Collectively, the children declared they were hungry, but they made their appeal to the bear at the front and not to you. In fact, the children didn’t acknowledge you at all. Were you there with them? You looked back at the sea, and its edges faded. When you directed your gaze forward again, the bear-man held a door open for you, and you entered into the foyer of a restaurant. You weren’t invisible to him; he wore a gentle smile that expressed his deep understanding of your soul. As you brushed past him, he tried to gaze into your eyes, but you dodged him because the connection felt too intimate for a public place, more obscene than anything that could occur behind closed doors.

The dining area had a broad empty floor of blue tiles, and it triggered a deep memory in you of how fast food restaurants used to appear before the common days of chemical substances and bad oil. Back then, in that fictitious time of memory, fast food providers were family-happy. Their food was simple, soft bread and grilled meat coated in chopped onion and pickle relish. In those days, fast food nourished the body and soul in steamy booths. You didn’t like to be tricked this way, but how could you protest? The children–your children–needed sustenance and ice-clicking drinks sucked through colored straws. They needed hydration, and the bear pulled out his billfold and paid for it, and you said nothing. You tasted the yeasty bread and savored the pickles, while the brightness of the drink awakened your senses. This was the memory–this was it! This was nostalgia in a red booth bolted to a blue floor.

After eating, the children ran outside in the gray-blue air, and you could see them tagging each other in the lot. The bear waited for you, his large hand holding the door, and then he led you out, back to the car so the children could fetch their roller skates. They exchanged their white sneakers for the old-fashioned kind of four-wheeled skates, and you reluctantly did the same. Then they formed a chain like a conga line, each small set of hands on the blue windbreaker of the one in front. You counted them: one rugged man-bear and four children of indeterminate age and sex, too skinny in their faded pants and old skates. How could the children of this burly man be so insubstantial? He resembled the weight of earth, and his hair was wild and dark. In comparison, the children were wisps. They were wind, hair so white-blonde their heads disappeared into the edges, much like the soft sea.

“Aren’t you going to join us?” The man yelled, his voice as growly as a bear’s.

These were your children. Yours. And they ching-chinged away from you. You didn’t want to skate on such an uneven sidewalk that buckled and cracked as this one did, but you grabbed for the tiny waist of the child at the end, and you capped off the line. This exhilarated you. You were a part of something. You were complete, your own four children between you and the solidly human bear-man at the front. You had five children–count them again. One, two, three, four. Panic clenched in your side, in the same spot where cold air and exercise and fast food stabbed you. Panic clenched you because you knew with certainty that you had five children, and where was the fifth? Had you left the fifth back at the house? Was this unnamed child alone in the sand? Would the deceitful waves grab for it and pull it away for the sea to eat?

No, no. The child was following behind you. You could feel it. The child was a bright blue jay with wings spread and tail feathers fanned into a blue arc, and it flew at your back. It followed in your wake, desperately trying to catch up to you. You dropped the thin waist in front of you and halted, which caused the children to fall backwards in a reverse domino, laughing all the while and banging you with their bony elbows. You fell down with them, feeling as if you were, after all, a bruised mother. The dark man lent you his hand, and when he pulled you up, you teetered against him, and your physical presence together with his startled you with its heaviness. Was it possible for a solid man to desire an old crone such as yourself? It seemed unlikely to you–you were spirit and soul, and he was body–an unlikely match.

But where did your missing child go? You spun around as best you could on dinged-up wheels because you caught a flutter of its brilliant feathers. You reached for your child-bird, and its life dropped from it as a kite drops without wind to bear it aloft. It dropped, a skeleton lacking bright feathers. It crashed, head first, to the buckled walk. You reached for it, even though you couldn’t salvage it. You cried and nobody cared. Your family screeched and skated off. At the head, the bear-man beckoned for you to continue. You’ll miss out, he called to you. You’ll miss all the fun!

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MapWriter LoveMap: Virtual Honor

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

I purchased my LoveMap. So sue me. I thought it would resemble the antiquated match.com, which makes me feel like an antique because that’s how I found my soul mate Gwen at age twenty. We had thirty years together before she died of ovarian cancer. Now that I’m sixty, I’m finally ready to find a new companion, someone to ride off with me into the sunset, our bikes whirring in joyous union.

You know those MapWriter dealies that advise you on your life steps? Yeah, I never bought one because I have all I want as senior librarian at the local library. But the LoveMap sounded all right. Surely, it would work in a similar way to the MapWriter, using its database of my information to link me up with a compatible lady.

As soon as I engaged my LoveMap, I knew something was off. The damn thing looked like a board game. But a sign flashed at me: “Enter Your Moniker.” With the type pad, I punched in Arthur Michael Knight. Yeah, that’s my name. My parents were really clever. Next, a spinning set of dice lit up. “Click to Roll,” it said. I clicked.

The game squares lit up one by one, until the movement stopped on one emblazoned The Ghetto. This message scrolled across the top of the game: “You are a knight of the first order. You must earn your way out of The Ghetto by seducing the seven first-order priestesses.” Priestesses? What?

The game image split in the middle and unfurled to reveal a ghetto scene, complete with a little man in a kind of red space suit, whose back wore my name. A set of arrows indicated I was to pick a direction and search the area. As I clicked my way up a garbage-strewn alley, ghoulish drunks hiding in the shadows reared up and grabbed at my virtual ankles. I sighed. I hadn’t played a role-playing game since 2007 and, even then, work and fatherly demands kept me from getting hooked on them.

At the top of the alley, a crowd of men appeared to be kicking at something or someone. My initial instinct was to turn around and find a safer route, but a small cry emitted from the game. I jumped. So far, the game had been silent. I stopped my space-suit man and hesitated. The cry mewled out again, a pathetic female sound–no yelling, no cries of pain, just a small, shamed noise.

With all the game bravado I could muster, I ran at the crowd, unsheathing a sword from somewhere inside my suit. I knocked the men aside and looked down at the pathetic creature that huddled in the dirt. Her clothing, what was left of it, bore her label: Peasant Dodo. I helped her up.

“WTF?” One of the men shoved me into Peasant Dodo. “Whaddya think you’re doing? She’s yours now, sucker. She’s the punishment dolts like you get.”

“You were hurting her,” I said out loud, and the words strangely echoed from my game counterpart.

“Huh. You must be new here, Arthur. I dub you Sir Biscuit, and you’re doomed. Good luck finding a priestess to get you out of this spell: I call on the spirit Hetch to bind your sword grip and lock your weapons in the lowest level of hell. This I proclaim with the power of darkness, Sir Biscuit.”

“My name is Arthur Michael Knight,” I said before the map face turned black and reverted to the auto game screen.

I grabbed the instructions from the LoveMap case and studied them for answers. LoveMap was a role playing game that involved seducing priestesses in order to earn higher levels of knighthood. Spells, incantations, and false moves could knock me to lower levels of knighthood, even down to peasanthood. The same was true for the female players. And the only way out, once in, was to find a mate and exit the game with her. In the various disclaimers at the end, I found a caution against using real names or other traceable information in the profile section. If attraction occurred between characters, names and phone numbers could be swapped privately. Great. Why had I not read the instructions?

When I logged on the next day, I wandered around the LoveMap world, observing the goings-on of others. The priestesses postured as sex kittens, not the type of woman I would enjoy as a late-in-life mate. Some females didn’t have the essential tiger-like spirit to act as priestesses, and raunchy knights gave them as punishments to errant lower level men. Dodo, it seemed, was the pass-around, worst punishment of all the females. Poor Dodo.

At ten, I gave it a rest and made a pot of coffee. Just as I was enjoying my first cup, the phone rang. I hit the speaker button.

“Thank you for saving me,” a breathy voice said. “You were the first who ever bothered.”

“Peasant Dodo?”

Her breathy voice heaved into sobs. “I used my real info, too. They’ve been tormenting me every day. I can’t get out. Sir Arthur, you have to rescue me. If you don’t, nobody will.”

Her words echoed and faded, as though our verbal communication was as virtual as the game, and then I heard a click. She was gone. I ate a sandwich for mental strength and reentered the game, this time in search of Dodo’s profile information.

Her name was Barb Ackerman. She was thirty-eight years old, never married, and taught French literature at the University of Washington, which was just under ninety miles from my small town. In the picture of her–an actual untampered photograph–her face was plain, but her smile pleasant.

What the hell, I thought. This game was not for me. I sent her a mate request and waited for her to answer. I could do worse than discuss French literature over coffee with a young lady who had a pleasant smile.

Almost instantly, she accepted my request. “Thank you for letting me out of this prison,” she messaged me.

“My pleasure,” I wrote. “Care for a country bike ride this Saturday?”

“I’ll bring the wine!!”

And I’ll bring a rare edition of Voltaire. A book. An actual book. I deleted my profile and stowed the LoveMap away. What a farce.

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The Chess Master

image by Emille Domschot © 2012

This is the second story in my youth story series. It’s by Eva Domschot, who happens to be my sixteen-year-old daughter. But don’t let that prevent you from giving the story advice or praise, as you see fit. Enjoy!

Nathan pulled a miniature chess set out of his backpack and sat down at the park table. Lauren sat down across from him. Nathan and Lauren both loved chess and had taken to playing chess together after school was out. Nathan arranged the pieces neatly on the board.

“You go first,” he motioned to Lauren.

She nodded, flipping her auburn hair over one shoulder. She delicately slid the pawn in front of her king one space forward. So far, out of the fifteen games they had played, Nathan had won nine and Lauren had won six. Nathan was a very offensive player, while Lauren was a defensive player. She typically won through sneaky moves that Nathan didn’t notice. Nathan slid a piece forward, already forming ideas of how he could win this game. The afternoon passed away peacefully into dusk.

Lauren carefully moved a piece forward: “I should probably go home in a few minutes,” she said.

She looked up as she did so, and then shrieked. Flanking the two of them on both sides were a dozen men dressed in black.

Nathan looked around in horror.

“Where the hell did they come from,” he muttered under his breath.

Come on,” one of the men ordered harshly. “You two are coming with us.”

He grabbed Lauren by the wrist and pulled her away from the table. She pulled away desperately, her face pale with fear. Nathan went on the attack, but six men surrounded him and grabbed a hold of his arms and shoulders. Both of them struggled as the posse of men pushed them towards the back of a dark van and dumped them in.

“Lauren, are you OK?” asked Nathan.

“I’m freaking out,” she said in a strangely calm voice, “but other than that I’m fine.”

They both sat in silence, having no way to figure out what was going on.

The van screeched to a halt, and the men flung the doors of the van open. The guards dragged Nathan and Lauren out into an alleyway. One scruffy looking guard paused at the door of an old, dingy looking tower. He pulled a out a bunch of keys and unlocked the door. The guards herded Nathan and Lauren into the building, where they found themselves facing a stairwell.

“March up,” ordered the scruffy looking guard.

So up they all went. All Nathan and Lauren could hear was the dull thumping of boots for thirteen flights of stairs. Finally, they reached a long, low room with large glass windows along the wall that looked over the city. In the middle of the room was a vast chess board. Nathan had played multi-player chess before with four players, but this chess board had many different sets of chess pieces on it, and far, far too many pawns. Standing by the board, keenly watching the pieces, was an old man with long, grey hair and black robes. He turned now to look at them.

He smiled eerily. “Good job. You brought them. You are dismissed,” he waved his hands at the group of men.

The men left, leaving Lauren and Nathan standing by themselves in the middle of the room.

“What do you want with us?” asked Nathan angrily.

“What do I want with you,” repeated the old man slowly. “I need intelligent children who understand the finer points of chess. I must have successors when I am gone.”

“Successors to what?” asked Nathan, “and who said we would comply?”

The man smiled thinly: “You will be my successor, and you will comply because otherwise I will starve the girl.”

“You’d better not touch her,” was Nathan’s angry reply.

The old man merely smiled: “Certainly not, unless you don’t do what you are required. Step closer, both of you. You see this chess board is the entire world, which I control. It is simply a matter of strategy and understanding people to get the desired outcome. Watch closely.”

On the board, a white pawn stood ready to strike at a black King. The man slipped a black pawn out of a pocket on his robe and set it on the board beside the white pawn.

“Now look,” he said. “The pawn’s attention was on the king and…. now it will go after the pawn. All very simple. All this and more you shall learn.” He grinned: “My time isn’t quite like your time. I am always several moves ahead of the outside world. You may call me Master.”

Nathan looked boldly at him: “I certainly shall not. I have a proposition to make. I challenge you to a game of chess. If I win, you let us go. If you win, we stay.”

The Master sneered at the boy: “You seriously think that with the intellect of fifteen years that you can beat me? Very well. Watching the chess board does get a bit boring. People are so predictable.”

He yawned and continued, “Bring out your chess set. You play white, and take first move.”

Nathan noticed that Lauren had retreated to the corner of the room, and was sitting there with a pensive look on her face. The game began, and it was not long before Nathan could see the chess Master far outranked him, and in fact, was playing him. There were several opportunities the Master could have taken but did not seize upon. Nathan very carefully picked up a piece and moved it forward.

“Check mate,” said the old man in a bored voice, when a loud crash filled the room.

Both of them turned to see the gigantic chess table crash onto the floor, chess pieces bouncing through the air. Lauren was standing quite calmly next to it, a satisfied look on her face.

“I don’t play within your rules,” she said firmly. “I am not a pawn that you can just mess with and use, and I am not predictable!”

Her hazel eyes glinted with anger.

“You stupid, stupid girl,” the old man shrieked. “Don’t you realize how much chaos you are going to cause in the world?”

“Humans have a way of surviving,” said Lauren with derision. “You were causing vast chaos to achieve what you wanted. No more.”

The chess Master responded, “It was controlled chaos.”

He gave a sudden shriek and crumpled to the floor. Nathan leaned over him, his chess board in hand from where he had struck the old man a heavy blow on the head.

Lauren said, “I can’t abide being forced into playing by other people’s stupid rules. Now help me throw this chess board out the window. We are several moves ahead of the world, so we have a bit of time before supposed disaster strikes.”

He nodded and helped her heave it to one of the long windows. Together they smashed it against the glass and watched it fall and shatter on the concrete below them.

Nathan pulled a piece of rope from his pocket and tied the old man’s wrists together in a tight knot. Then he dragged him to a small supply closet across the room and pushed him in.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Hesitantly, they left the room, wary that there might be guards around, but there was no one. They exited the tower into the outside world. Nathan peered at his watch. It was the same time as before they had entered the tower.

“See you at school tomorrow, Lauren. And you’d better not get it into your head to start accidentally pushing our chess board off the table.”

Lauren only smiled: “You just never can tell with me.”

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A Draconian Error of the Fatal Kind

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

I’m beginning a series of short stories written by the under-18 crowd. This particular girl chose to remain anonymous; however, I happen to know she’s fourteen. The story also came in my e-mail without a title, so I made one up. That’ll teach the authors not to leave their stories untitled. As editor, I only had to change a few typos. Enjoy! Oh, and give this girl some feedback, please.

A torrent of flames passes me. The acrid stench of smoke clogs my throat, followed by another bout of fire, even as I dive to the side, sword in hand. Once the blade was shining silver- now it is tarnished with soot and hot in my sweaty grip. For a moment I am given reprieve from the fire-breathing dragon behind me. It blasts the granite rocks that shield me with impotent flames. Their roar fills my ears- or perhaps it is the roar of the dragon. Using my time wisely, I disentangle my arm from my crumpled shield. My entire wrist is numb, and my left arm hangs limp at my side, the result of a foolish attempt to block the dragon’s slashing claws with nothing but a flimsy bit of metal.

What am I doing here? I wonder again. This has to be my stupidest idea yet. But of course, there really was no other option, I suppose. It was either this or let the princess get roasted, which I guess would go against my vows as a knight of the kingdom. Apparently the importance of those vows was lost upon the other “heroic warriors” who watched in disbelief as I took on the job. Kill the fire breathing dragon, and rescue the princess! Oh, and while you’re at it, try not to be roasted to a crisp, cut to ribbons, eaten, or otherwise murdered. Sound good? Haha.

“Come out petty human, and meet your fate!” The terrible, yet beautiful, voice rings in my ears, causing my already aching head to pound. Apparently a dragon’s voice is supposed to be hypnotic. It uses its smooth tongue to lure unsuspecting knights into its claws.

But the dragon’s attempt is lost on me, so I shout back, “Shut you’re trap! You smell like burnt feathers and a dead animal! You should clean more often you filthy slob!”

This seems to surprise the dragon. Apparently, it’s not used to being back-sassed by its next meal. Another wall of flame pours over the stone that I’m cowering behind. Time to move.

I spring away from the rock, almost tripping over the bleached skeleton of some less fortunate victim. A cloud of smoke engulfs me- the dragon seems to be running low on fire at the moment. I scramble to the other side of the cave and spin around, sword at the ready. The dragon snarls angrily and slides after me, its black hide rippling over huge muscles, its scales winking brightly in the light cast by the flames still burning behind it. That’s when I notice two things. One- to my right is a narrow cave mouth, too small for the dragon to enter, but plenty big for me. Two- a huge boulder, perched on a ledge over the cave mouth. It’s probably hopeless, but it’s my only shot.

I dart to the side, just as another plume of flame rakes by me. I feel it singe my left side, but I keep running. I dodge a clawed foot, roll away from a pair of snapping jaws, and regain my feet. The dragon must realize my intent, because it roars and lunges after me. Perfect. No seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. It’s all part of the plan.

A split second before its jaws snap shut on my rear end, I sprint into the tunnel. For a second the dragon continues to follow me. Its neck is slender enough to enter the cave. Suddenly it jolts to a stop as its broad shoulders crash into the rock walls around the tunnel. It starts to recoil, as if somehow it senses its danger. Too late. Disturbed by the veritable earthquake the dragon caused, the giant boulder plunges downward, landing on the dragon’s neck, just behind the skull, and pinning it to the ground.

For a while the beast struggles futilely, its wings battering the air around it, its tail lashing. Finally it desists and sits in sullen silence.

I take my time coming out of the tunnel, and skirt to the side of its head. It can still breathe fire.

“Well?” it snaps irritably. “Are you going to kill me or not?”

“Not on my agenda,” I say with a smirk, which the dragon cannot see, because my entire face is hidden behind my helmet. “I think I’ll leave you here to struggle for a few centuries. Maybe some of this rubble will shift and you can escape sometime in the next millennia.”

“Murderer!” the dragon screeches, in a voice totally devoid of beauty.

“Oh, it won’t kill you. You can survive at least that long without food,” I say. “Might not be much fun, but that’s not my problem.”

The dragon snorts out a puff of smoke and changes tactics. It speaks in a soft, silky voice. “I have many secrets that I could tell you,” it says enticingly. “Come to me, and I can make you powerful among men…”

I roll my eyes. My expression is again lost upon the dragon. “Not working!” I say breezily.

“You know you want it,” the dragon continues in an obviously feminine voice that would snag the hearts and minds of most warriors. Most. Not all.

“Still not working,” I say again.

“Come to me!” the dragon persists. “Be my servant. Release me!”

I let my head loll to the side, and speak in a choked voice, seeming to struggle with my words. “Your wish is… my command…master,” I say, taking half a step forward.

The dragon seems surprised. “Really?”

My head pops up, and I laugh. “No, not really. I’m just pulling your tail.”

The dragon bellows in rage. “Curse you, Small One! How do you escape my charms?”

I tip my head to the side thoughtfully. “Hmmm…well, I think I’ll keep that information to myself,” I say. “Now, cut the chatter and tell me where the princess is hidden.”

“No!” the dragon says petulantly.

“Yes!” I snap.

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No, no, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes!”

“Never! Ouch!”

This last exclamation is torn from the dragon’s scaly lips as I poke it in the eye with my sword. “Tell me!”

“Oh fine! Fifth floor, room 203.”

“Thank you good sir!” I reply as sweetly as possible, and stroll away.

Four flights of stairs later (and these are huge stairs, I mean, this is a dragon’s lair, right?) I arrive panting at a wide stone corridor. I walk down the hallway, looking at the numbers on the doors. 201, 202, ah, 203. I sheath my sword and rap on the door with my armored knuckles.

I might be imagining it, but I think I hear a dramatic sigh from within. There’s some scuffling, and the door is flung open. A beautiful woman stands there, her pale gold tresses swept back from her face, her bright red dress bejeweled with bright sequins.

I scuffle my foot. “Uh, I beat the dragon. Let’s go.”

She looks a little stunned at my direct approach, but she recovers herself neatly and sinks into a graceful curtsy. “Oh Sir Knight, thank you for freeing me from the clutches of my foul oppressor. I beg that you will accept this favor as a token of my gratitude.” She extends one pale arm and offers me a spotless white handkerchief.

“Er, right, thanks,” I say, taking it. It is immediately dirtied by my sooty hands.

“May I ask the name of my rescuer?” she asks, clasping her hands and fluttering her eyelids flirtatiously. “After all, you have gone through so much to rescue me. I am sure my esteemed father will be quite pleased to have you as his son-in-law, but first, unhelm yourself and tell me your name.”

I feel myself go bright red. “Erm, lady, I think you have it all wrong,” I say.

“Of course I don’t!” she exclaims. “Now remove your helm!” Her last statement sounds imperious, so I do as she says, allowing my raven black locks to spill down around my shoulders, framing my slender face and crystal blue eyes.

Her silence seems loud to my ears.

“Um….awkward….” I say. “Marrying you was definitely not in my job description.”

“You’re a girl?” she gulps.

“Yeah, why so surprised?” I reply indignantly. “Now let’s go!”

“But I must be rescued by a prince!” she exclaims. “Not a princess!”

“Well I’m neither, so let’s go!” I snap.

“No!” she says childishly. “Go find another dragon to guard me until a guy comes and rescues me!”

“All your precious princes were too scared to come!” I spit out. “So come on!”

“But it’s not traditional!” she complains.

“Do I look like I care?”

“I’m in charge here and you’ll do as I say!”

“Shut up and save it for daddy!”

“Desist, o foul imposter!”

“Bratty little princess!”

“Ugly old maid!”

“Priss!”

“Tom-boy!”

Our conversation is cut short here as I knock her out with a swift blow to the temple. If I was a dashing knight I would catch her before she crumpled to the ground, but I’m not, so I let her fall.

“Oh and by the way,” I say sarcastically, “my name is Galadarel.”

I hoist her over my shoulder and start down the stairs. Down in the main cavern I meet the dragon again. It’s tapping its claws impatiently on the ground as it waits for me.

“Oh there you are! Got her, have you? Good. She was becoming a nuisance.”

“Tell me about it!” I snap. “I’ll be glad to be rid of her. See you around sometime. Or not.”

The dragon sighs dramatically, but I can tell it’s looking at my face closely. “Wait!” it cries. “You are female! No wonder my voice didn’t work on you!”

I wink slyly. “Bye now!”

Its voice carries after me. “Wait, come back!” it cries. But I’m gone before it can change its tactics and find some other way to control me. Annoying as she may be, I have a princess to deliver.

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