Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2008 Results




A Boy and His Dragon

Copyright © Robert Sugden 2008


“Did ya see that dirty great goanna, Rodney, it’s the size of a bleedin’ dragon, I’ll bet that’s what’s been pinching the eggs and scarin’ the chooks.”

“Na – didn’t see it Dad – what colour was it?”

“Ah just the usual goanna dusty brown, although in the half light it sorta looked a bit green.”

Rodney had seen photographs of dragons in books but most of his dragon knowledge came from conversations that he’d had with the dragon that lived under the workbench in the woodshed.

Rodney first met the dragon on a very cold winter day whilst working at the bench in the woodshed making sawdust and a ferret’s cage. He noticed that his feet and shins were quite warm, in fact a little too warm. So Rodney crouched down and looked under the bench, and there it was, just as he had suspected, a dragon.

It was a bog standard one hundred and twenty five degrees centigrade dragon - sound asleep – and when it exhaled, it smelled like a kerosene heater that needed its wick trimming. The dragon’s scales were the same colour as Robin Hood’s trousers – Lincoln green – and it had a bib that changed colour from green to blue and purple as the light moved. Its toenails were as long as those of a goanna, but were coloured bright red.

It had large diameter forward looking eyes as black as jet, from which issued a dull light, probably something to do with its fire.

Standard equipment on all dragons is a set of wings – a set being two wings – one on each side of its body.

The wings were translucent and coloured green, and when flapped, flashed gold and purple. The edge of each wing was picked out in red – the same shade as its toenails. The dragon’s tail ended in a red coloured barb, which glowed in the dark – an added safety feature when night flying. Tiny wisps of smoke and steam drifted from its nostrils - it was in fact a very handsome dragon.

The dragon was a bloke dragon named Sethenen and just had his three hundred and fiftieth birthday.

This is not very old for a dragon, and according to Sethenen, dragons often live to over fifteen hundred years.

Sethenen told Rodney that his grandfather, on his mother’s side, went up in a puff of smoke when he was eighteen hundred and thirty two years old.

Dragons nearly always auto-cremate and because of this they are despised by those in the funeral industry.

Sethenen had travelled to Australia in a steam ship in 1906 and during the trip lived in one of the ship’s coalbunkers.

“Why did you want to come to Australia Sethenen?”

“Well my friend, I didn’t want to come to Australia, in fact I didn’t know that there was a place named Australia, and I wasn’t all that interested in travelling.”

Sethenen explained that as a small dragon he lived in a coal mining town in Wales and one afternoon after lunching on coal and kerosene he curled up in a large pile of coal for a half hour kip.

“I thought that dragons came from China, I didn’t know that there were dragons in Wales.”

“Ah yes, Rodney, that’s what everybody thinks but there are dragons everywhere – especially where there are coal mines – dragons can smell coal hundreds of miles away.”

“Anyhow my small human friend, that afternoon when I was kipping in the pile of coal, was the start of my new life.”

The dragon went on to explain that the coal pile was loaded, with him in it, into a coal ship destined for Australia and when he woke up the ship was under way. There was plenty of coal to eat and when he became thirsty, he could always find the odd can of oil or drum of kerosene.

“Anyhow, young Rodney, after I got off the ship I moved around from coal field to coal field and in my wanderings I stayed in a few woodsheds and developed a taste for iron bark firewood and diesel fuel.”

“Do you miss Wales, Sethenen?”

“I did at first Rodney. For a time I couldn’t get used to the blue sky here and welcomed a slate sky day but gradually I got to like blue – but not only is the weather better than where I came from, so is the food – the coal and kerosene are much tastier in Australia.”

The dragon sighed and small puffs of steam issued from his nostrils and his breath smelled of kerosene, and he went on.

“But Rodney, there’s one thing that I do miss and that’s dancing – yes, I rather miss dancing.”

“Dancing? – do dragons dance much? – how do you dance with four feet?” queried young Rodney.

“Ah yes – good questions, Rodney. Dragons love dancing. I’m sure you’ve heard of the two step, well dragons actually do the four step; and then there’s the dragon trot and the Cha Cha Cha Cha , great dance steps if you’ve got four feet.”

The dragon paused for a moment and tiny tears welled in his eyes and turned into steam.

“It’s not much fun dancing on your own, the feel of a lady dragon’s one hundred and twenty five degree centigrade scales against your own ….. I only know of one other dragon in Australia and he’s a bloke dragon and lives in Toohotbyalot in the Northern Territory.”

Nobody spoke for a while and Rodney felt a little sad. “Maybe a lady dragon will get scooped up in a load of coal and get shipped to Australia,” whispered Rodney, “‘cause you’re only three hundred and fifty years old – you’ve got plenty of life left.”

Sethenen explained to Rodney that dragons have always had bad press from coal miners and firewood getters and when there’s a major fire, guess who gets the blame.

“Dragons, Rodney, are very gentle creatures and only incinerate those who attempt to harm them, although I must admit that some dragons have, in the past, vandalised fire hoses and fire extinguishers.”

Sethenen went on to explain that dragon slaying was a popular sport in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a lot of dragons were killed by spear wielding tin-suited blokes on horses, and the nastiest of them all was a bloke named George who was supposed to be a Saint. One of Sethenen’s uncles was killed by Saint George.

Rodney changed the subject.

“Have you been pinching the eggs from the chook house, Sethenen?”

“No, I can’t stand eggs - too much cholesterol – it’s probably a goanna – the goanna’s a distant cousin of the dragon but they’re not very clever.”

“Why did you decide to stay in our woodshed?”

“Well I’d been living in the woodshed over on Raebone’s farm for about thirty years eating ironbark and one day I drank some diesel from a new drum and it was crook and my fire went out and I caught a cold.”

“Gee how’d ya get your fire restarted?”

Sethenen told Rodney that the common cold in a dragon can be fatal. It is essential that his or her fire be re-started within an hour or the dragon starts to hydrate, and as dragons are deliquescent, they can self-dissolve in less than twenty-four hours.

“If you don’t get the fire going quick smart all that is found is a puddle of salty water with a little soot in it.”

“Gee Sethenen how do you restart your fire?”

“Well, have a look here on the back of my front foot – see this large claw – now this claw is actually made of flint and if I strike it on my scales I get a spark – watch.”

Sethenen struck the flint claw on the scales under his chin and produced a very big blue spark.

“Ah wow do that again – that’s real beaut.”

The dragon struck a few more sparks and explained how dragons re-light their fire if they have a flameout due to a bad cough or cold.

“A dragon's tongue has a series of glands on the underside which generate methane, so when your fire is out you poke your tongue out the side of your snout and strike your flint claw on the scales near your tongue, and bingo you’ve got the old fire going again.”

“Gee that’s real clever – like a built in cigarette lighter.”

“Well, yes, it’s a bit like a cigarette lighter but we don’t like to call it that because cigarettes are very bad for your health – you’ll never see a dragon smoking tobacco, Rodney – this is one reason why dragons live so long.”

“Why didn’t you stay at Raebone’s farm after you got your fire going again?”

“Oh - what happened was after a few strikes I got all lit up and I must have had a build up of methane in my belly and I backfired and set fire to the woodshed, so I got going before old Raebone found he had a pyromaniacal dragon on the property.”

Sethenen told Rodney about one of his cousins who lived in Greece.

“In 1794, when I was one hundred and thirty seven years old, my cousin in Greece, Kon Flagration, had his fire put out because it was said that he did, with Malice O’ Forethought, an Irish dragon, set fire to a big Cathedral somewhere in Greece.”

“What happened to him, Sethenen?”

“Well - he just dissolved into a big puddle of sooty salty water but Malice O’Forethought managed to escape. Kon didn’t set fire to the cathedral – it was an insurance job and Kon was set up.”

One day when Rodney went to the woodshed to turn wood into sawdust and shavings, he noticed that the shed was cold and Sethenen wasn’t in his nest under the workbench.

But there was a large slab of coal, on which the following words were scratched:

'My Dearest Human Friend Rodney,

I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye to you in person – I always get very teary at goodbyes and the steam would have fogged your safety spectacles. I have decided to move on to the Bogaballbone colliery, as there are two dance halls, a dance studio and a kerosene mine. And I’ve heard rumours that there could be a lady dragon in the area.

You’ve been a true and loyal friend and your acceptance of me with all my dragon faults is truly wonderful – my heart is breaking but I must go for coal is calling – please tell people that dragons are kind gentle beings and like all living creatures deserve a place in the sun – preferably near a coal pile and a kero drum.

Thermally Yours,

Sethenen.

P.S. I will send you a post card when I get to Bogaballbone and have found lodgings, maybe one day you could visit.'

Rodney was very sad and his eyes sprang a leak, but he knew deep down in his heart that Sethenen had to leave and follow the fire in his heart.

* * *

The psychiatric unit of the Bogaballbone hospital has had a dramatic increase in the number of people reporting for cranial catharsis after sighting dragons.

The psychiatric unit usually gets two or three sightings in a year and they occur when a wizard at the local brewery performs an exorcism.

The Bogaballbone Daily Bugle reported that in the last month alone, there were forty-two sightings of dragons and they were all made by motorists driving on open stretches of isolated roadway near the Bogaballbone Colliery.

One driver attacked by the dragon was a local resident Mr. Fred Smith, and he tells what happened.

“I was on me way back home after diggin’ up friggin’ coal all day an’ next thing I hears a bloody great scatchin’ an’ bangin’ on the back a me station wagon an’ I looks in me rear-vision mirror an, I sees this dirty great big huge bird thing bashin’ me car up, an’ then it choofs off an’ I can see that it ain’t no bloody bird it’s a dirty great ‘orrible dragon.”

Fred continues.

“So when I gits home I tells me Missus, an’ she says I’ve been drinkin’ outa damp glasses or sumfin but when we has a look at the back a the station wagon it’s got scratches all over it and bloody scorch marks an’ I’m gunna have ta get it re-ducoed – do ya reckon tha insurance company’s gunna believe me when I tells ‘em that the damage was caused by a dirty great ‘orrible dragon?”

Professor Adrian Kole-Duscht is Associate Professor of UFO and Allied Studies at the Bogaballbone University and thinks he has the answer.

“Professor, you’ve been reported as having said that you know why motorists are being attacked by dragons.”

“Yes that’s correct – I’ve researched dragons for some time now and I’ve discovered good evidence to suggest that lady dragons give off sulphur based pheromones and they float on the air and attract bloke dragons.”

“Well be that as it may Professor – why are they attacking cars?”

“Ah I’m glad you asked me that, boy reporter, I think what you’ll find is that all the cars attacked are relatively new, and are fitted with catalytic converters in the exhaust system – it seems that no old cars, without converters, or brand new ones were attacked.”

“Yes but I still don’t see…..”

“Well as the catalytic converters get old they wear out and eventually fail and when they do, the exhaust from the car’s engine has a decidedly sulphur smell about it,” explained Dr. Kole-Duscht, “and my guess is that there’s a dragon in the colliery coal pile and when he gets a whiff of sulphur from a car exhaust, he thinks there’s a lady dragon out there stoking her fire, and off he goes looking for a girl friend.”

“And so he thinks that there’s a lady dragon in the car and he attacks it thinking that maybe she’s being kidnapped?”

“Absolutely correct, so instead of those who were attacked nicking off to have their heads read by the local trick-cyclist, they should just go to a mechanic and get a new catalytic converter fitted to their car.”

* * *

Meanwhile, back at Rodney’s place it's dinnertime.

What’s for dinner, mum?”

“Rissoles, peas, beans, mashed potatoes, grilled tomatoes and fried eggs – gee, the chooks are laying well now that the dragon’s gone.”

“It wasn’t a dragon Mum – it was just a big old goanna.”

“Are you sure? – your Father reckoned it was a dragon.”

“There’s no such thing as dragons, Mum – it was just an old goanna.”