May 1990

This was written for a literature class during my freshman year of University. I didn't write much fiction after high school, but welcomed this opportunity to get back into it. I tried to model the style on old Arthur C Clarke writings. I was also being literary by invoking Beren and casting an interpretation on the loss of his hand.

"In a universe this large, it is nearly impossible that what is mere myth on one planet is not actual fact on another. And so it was, I discovered, with the dragons..."

Claude sat back in his levi-chair, and sighed. Old retired explorers are the best people to get stories from, when there is a story to be gotten. Children love tales of excitement and adventure, and I had thought there might be a good one when I asked him about his hand. We sat around Claude, eagerly waiting for him to continue.

Just when we were beginning to think he might not, he did. "It's been a few years, kids, so you'll have to excuse me if my story isn't complete. I'll catch all the salient points, anyway." We didn't care about all those "salient points", whatever they were. We just wanted the story.

"We hit planet with no hitches. We knew the air was breathable, so we knew there had to be some kind of life as we know it. But we didn't know what, as far as animals; the planet was riddled with caves, and the animals probably lived in them. Though the satellites had seen some large birds.

"The first signs of animal life that we saw were some very large spoors—in fact, one of my senior crew members, Mikey, discovered it by stepping on it thinking it was a mound of dirt, and sunk in up to his waist. You can guess what his nickname's been since then!

"The spoor was, as we had expected, unfamiliar. It didn't smell terrible, but it wasn't too nice, either. The closest approximation we could guess at what made it was some kind of reptile."

Claude cleared his throat, and went on. "Anyway, I don't suppose you're wanting to hear about poop. We followed the tracks that seemed to be made by the same animal that made the shit, an animal with big monster feet, for a couple kilometers, right to a dense patch of vegetation, and then the tracks suddenly disappeared. Poof! No sign.

"We talked for a while, and finally decided to fly to the cave that the tracks had seemed to be leading to, a few kilometers further on. Mikey went back to the ship to get an air car. And to get cleaned up.

"The cave was even larger close up than it had looked from a distance. In fact, I remember even saying, 'You could fit a dinosaur into that!' Never say things like that, kids; you don't always know what you're getting yourself into.

"So we posted a guard at the entrance and went in, guns drawn.

"It was of course dark inside the cave, and hard to see. Fairly soon, however, it was obvious that something did live there, something large. We turned on our lights, but what we actually followed, when the cave branched, was the smell. A smell of ozone and smoke and sulfur came from ahead the larger branch, which led presently to a vast cave.

"I'm afraid we didn't notice the size of the cave for a few moments. What we noticed was the occupant of the cave."

For a long moment, there was breathless silence.

"In every person's life, there comes a time when something they had thought impossible happens. Children, don't you ever—ever—believe when someone tells you something is not possible. Because, invariably, it is.

"We saw a dragon. Not just an alien that looked a little like something that could be called a dragon, but a real dragon. It was the color of tarnished silver, or maybe of rusty iron. It was like a great serpent, lying on a pile of rocks, with small claws and great, furled wings. It's head steamed from the pointy mouth, and the green eyes regarded us in amused surprise."

Claude stopped and looked at us, each of us in turn. He stared right into us, as if searching for something that wasn't there. At last he went on.

"You all have probably read enough books to know the stories about not looking into a dragon's eyes, lest he charm you. That part, too, was as true as the myths. I stared into the dragon's face, and was caught.

"By holding my gaze locked, the dragon was able, I guess telepathically, to learn all it wanted to about me. Including my language, for it soon spoke to us. In a sinister, hissing, venomous voice, it said, 'Get out, or I'll eat you up.'

"The other members of my crew got out, fast. But scientific curiosity overcame me, and I stayed to try to talk to it."

Claude shuddered. "It roared at me, hissed flame right at me, and warned me that all humans who ever came to the planet again would be eaten without a second thought, and it assured me they would be caught barely after landing. I believed it.

"And then the dragon leaned over—I was still caught by its eyes, having refused my opportunity to escape just then—and bit off my left hand. I could see red dribble around it's mouth as it swallowed.

"The dragon obviously wanted me to live. When it saw that I could bleed to death from that wound, it breathed fire on my stump, and the bleeding stopped. Then it released me from its charm."

We were all staring wide-eyed at Claude, and at the stump of his left hand. We had never imagined that dragons had been the cause of that. But he had more to say. Claude never could tell a story without a moral.

"Kids, that dragon was smart. It took the left hand, not the right, because it knew that, in that hand, the true power of a person lies. That is the hand conductors use to direct the music; it is the hand in which Beren clutched the Silmaril, that he lost to the Wolf. When a person loses that hand, he loses the power to be himself. Since that time, my abilities as a commander have grown less, and less, and finally I was removed from the force. And I spend my time, telling my stories to children, hoping that maybe one of them will learn what I learned too late."

Claude stopped, and we all cheered him. We wanted to see his stump again, and we started making up games about fighting dragons, and had an all around good time. Until our parents called us to dinner, and we left in a babbling stream of children, and Claude sat in his chair, by himself, and eventually went into his rooms to make his dinner, where, I afterwards learned, there rested over the hearth the head of a great dragon.

Author's Note

What novel would be complete without an Author's Note? This isn't much of a novel, but this won't be much of an Author's Note.

The most important thing, perhaps, that I learned from my eleventh grade English teacher was that, once a work has been written, it is up to the reader to get his or her own meaning from the work, and the author has no further control over what that meaning will be. Thus it is that the greatest works have survived the centuries: they are written to allow people to find their own understandings, even though those may change through the course of history.

But sometimes an author may have a specific meaning he wants to convey, to express to or to teach the reader. In such cases, it could be necessary to give the reader a hint to the interpretation, not to forbid the reader from finding another one, but to show what the author was thinking, to create a better understanding between author and reader.

This, then, is my hint. My mother told me many times while she was divorcing my father that she felt like a dragon about to hatch. By "dragon" she meant one of the tame, telepathic beasts of Pern in Anne McCaffrey's popular series, The Dragonriders of Pern. These are good and gentle beasts, yet know aspects of life that they do not tell their riders.

Recently, my mother told me she had hatched, and was ready to grow up.

When I refer to dragons, however, I refer to the evil breed in the classic myths of the Germanic tradition﷓heartless powerful monsters that steal gold and eat people for the fun of it.

In the process of my own therapy, I have discovered that my mother has been less than an ideal mother; it was not only at the hands of my father that I suffered abuse.

By describing a dragon, therefore, I am using a double-edged sword. In anything I write, "dragon" means my mother. But by making a point not to describe the dragon she calls herself, I say something important about my past and present relationship with her. For all good writing should say something of importance to someone.