Let There Be Dragons

Sep 9, 2013 by     Comments Off on Let There Be Dragons    Posted under: Adam Drew This, Brian Wrote This, Fiction, Sketchbook
They aren’t all dragons, not technically. A lot of them are actually wyverns, recognizable by having two feet, not four. The wyverns have a higher-pitched cry, like an incoming rocket. A proper dragon’s roar sounds more like a jumbo jet.

They aren’t all dragons, not technically. A lot of them are wyverns, recognizable by having two feet, rather than four. Wyverns also have a higher-pitched cry, like an incoming rocket as they swoop around the taller downtown buildings and strafe the park around Lake Merritt. A proper dragon, on the other hand, sounds more like the roar of a jumbo jet.

I could send them all away, as easily as I summoned them—which I’ll confide was not very easy at all, but the point is, I could banish them all.  The Asian dragons, water-lovers all, floating just off the Port of Oakland and preening themselves on the big cranes that inspired those walking troop carriers from The Empire Strikes Back. The Russian zmeys, three-headed and fire-belching, that perch on the Civic Center buildings downtown, and that one Czech drak, charcoal-black atop the Tribune’s clock tower. The slothful, bat-winged cuélebre, roaming the hills, seeking treasures and unspoiled maidens from two- and three-million-dollar homes. Or the great, copper-scaled European that has taken over (and somewhat expanded) the Caldecott tunnels. Locals have nicknamed him Smaug, and say he’s amassing quite a bit of treasure in there. I imagine the scales of his immense belly encrusted with iPhones rather than rubies.

It was a triumphant moment, the day before Valentine’s, when I heard their great leathery wings above the damp morning fog. It was almost a dozen hours after I’d cast the spell, and I’d resigned myself to humiliation and failure. I wonder where Caroline was when she heard that first great Godzilla roar and looked to the sky. I wonder what good clever Benedict was to her then.

By the end of this shortest month, the military options had come and gone. Tanks, rockets, fighter planes and, most controversially, drones had not only failed, but had done almost as much damage to the city as the great reptiles themselves. Now, the Ides of March upon us, we live like the populations of the war-wracked Mideast, never knowing when a perched dragon, still as a gargoyle, will suddenly swoop down to pluck a homeless man from Broadway, or one of the beetling old ladies from a Chinatown sidestreet.

When I share my knowledge of dragons, their habits and classifications, it’s attributed to my two-decade career as a folklorist. There’s a shelf in my living room lined with my books on the Eddas, the Niebelungenlied, Tolkein and the Grimms, and my courses at Cal are popular with undergraduates. Who’d ever believe that I summoned these creatures in a magic ritual of my own devising?

That’s not to say no one knows what I’ve done. My former colleagues at the Ordo Vero Ex Umbra, Bay Area Temple, are well aware. That proud but little-known fraternal order of apocryphaliacs is probably still soiling its collective bloomers as its graying members wrestle against their natures to craft an elegant and sincere apology. I doubt any generation of the order’s venerable high adepts have been this verklempt since Crowley plundered our secrets, more than a century gone.

“You couldn’t work real magic if it came boxed with step-by-step directions,” that’s what Benedict, all thinning comb-over and oversized skull rings, said in his sly, sarcastic voice. A warlock through and through. I expected that from him, of course, but to see Caroline braying along, to see her on his arm after the Imbolc celebration, eyes bright with candle flames and mirth …
It took a dozen days to research the conjuring and gather the ingredients—it’s no small operation to obtain virgin menstrual blood, for starters. I worked out the ritual, but I confess that I underestimated the potency of my passions, and rather expected to conjure something a bit more … conceptual. The idea of a dragon, the smell of fire and an electric charge in the air.

“Yes, do conjure us a dragon, Philip,” my pencil-thin rival said. And of course, nothing happened that night, and Benedict was all the more cutting, Caroline’s silence as cruel as the laugh-lines spidered around her eyes.

They’ve got their dragons now, haven’t they? And the whole city with them. I’m sorry for the destruction, truly, but it’s a dangerous world, and affairs of the heart and the darker arts are never without casualties. I said as much, while tendering my resignation on Cupid’s day—perfect for a parting of the ways. They pleaded, with arrogant righteousness, for me to put the genii back in the bottle. They’re lucky I didn’t summon a genii, actually.

“If you’re such great fucking magicians,” I told them, savoring the rare expletive, “you clean up the dragons.”

I saw fear in Caroline’s eyes as she brushed back a wave of that bottle-red hair, the color of Smaug’s sleek haunches. I liked the sight of it—felt a little like a dragon myself as I turned and left.

She shouldn’t have laughed. It’s as simple as that.

Original sketch by Adam that inspired this quick story. (Color illustrations came after.) Note the wyvern at lower right.


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