Monday, July 25, 2011

Short Story: Amber in the Belly

"Amber in the Belly": An exiled priest finds hope in a strange, scaly place. Fantasy, 5300 words.

Amber in the Belly

Caroling from the drunken revelers at the Broken Goat burst through the air as the pub’s door slammed open. Damon sidestepped a crowd of partyers as they spilled out, one man spinning a chime wheel wildly above his head. The door shut again, closing on the stench of spilled beer and overheated humanity. The group tottered off, no doubt towards the next pub down the lane. Damon stuffed his hands deeper into his coat pockets and tucked his nose into his scarf. Home was ten minutes away.

Vendors called out to him as he passed. Hawking last minute presents and decorations for tomorrow’s celebration, their fingers showed pink through the cut-off tips of their gloves, their faces ruddy above swathes of scarves. He wanted to ignore them all, but the little carts with savory, hot food atop their steaming grills made his stomach growl. Damon paused at a cart selling fried potato puffs, the small round puffs browning in the sizzling oil. His mouth watered.

“How many, sir?” asked the cheerful vendor.

Damon scowled and moved on.

It wasn’t yet six, but already the streets were cloaked in night, heavy and still and cold. He thought of the brandy waiting in the cupboard, of the warming stone he could heat when he got a fire going. He thought of dinner: tins of beans, likely. Maybe bread, if the loaf hadn’t gone green yet.

There was a prayer that turned bread fresh again. His hands clenched into fists, released. He huffed out through the scarf, the wool damp against his lips. A prayer, yes. A prayer for everything. Every damned thing you could want – almost.

He hesitated before turning down the crooked alley that led to his door. Nothing moved in the shadows. Casually, he bent down as if tying his bootlaces. His fingers searched in the dirty snow, found a small rock. He stood, rock light in his hand.

A snap of his wrist, and the rock went pinging down the alley. Something screeched, and a streak of fire lit the narrow passage. Ah. No thieves in wait, then. Just dragons.

They were like rats. The city had, in recent years, become a refuge of sorts for the little ones, tiny cousins to the great beasts prowling the mountains further south. They crouched in make-shift caves under sewer grates and carriages; their scaly bodies wrapped around lamp posts, absorbing the heat and blocking the light. Of course, their increased presence meant that the actual rat population had seen a mighty decrease, but reports of burnt hands and boots were common, and the tiny dragons were quite the little thieves, cunning and with dexterous toes. The mayor had declared them a scourge to be wiped out. Dead dragons by the dozen hung from poles in the town square, their wings and claws sliced off for offerings to the gods, their bellies cut open for the powerful ambers that fueled their flame. It was said that one amber from a dragon’s belly could keep your fire stoked without extra wood for an entire night.

Damon thought about this as he made his way to his door. Wood was expensive. An entire night? A whole night’s worth of warmth, without waking up at some godsless hour to find all the heat from the stone against your feet had gone, and your fire was only embers? It seemed like a dream.

He peered into the shadows, a cautious plan forming. Now, where was the thing? He’d seen its fire just there, on the right, but then it had scurried away. Could be gone already.

“Here, dragon,” he whispered into the dark. “Dragon, dragon.”

Nothing but silence. He sighed. Really, he had no luck at all. Odd, since he’d once considered himself a very lucky man, indeed. A man who’d studied the prayers, worked them into miracles that few of his profession could manifest, and made a fine living teaching them to others. A man who had only to recite the words and — well, it was best not to dwell on that. That was the past. A short-lived fire and beans were the present.

His key slipped into the lock. Before he could open the door, something stirred in the snow at his feet.

A dragon.

It hugged the wall, claws clicking on the stones. Looking up. Watching him with glittering gold eyes.

A dragon.

Maybe his luck was changing, after all. His mind did furious calculations: a meager bounty for the body, claws and teeth and wings all parted out, and then there was the amber… If he moved fast enough.

The dragon’s lips curled back, revealing rows of pointed, white teeth. Smoke curled into the air from its nostrils.

Yes, he could do this. He’d once hunted fox with his father and brothers, and wasn’t that a clever, quick prey? And he’d never come home without one hanging from his saddle.

“Hello. Don’t be afraid. I’m just going to pick you up.” The dragon’s lips curled back further, and Damon fairly pounced on the thing, grabbing it by the neck and wings. A shriek rang through the alley, the dragon’s bantam body thrashing in Damon’s hands. “Ha! Got you!”

The dragon stilled its struggling, fixed him with an angry golden eye, and drew a great breath. Damon had an instant of premonition before he let go, but already the thin streak of flame was loosed, directed at his face. He fell back, slipping on the slick ground, heat passing over his head.

As he scrambled to his feet, he looked for his would-be prey. It seemed he was alone in the alley again. The dragon had, wisely, fled. Well. It hadn’t been much of a dragon anyway, scrawny and young. Even its flame hadn’t amounted to much. If he hadn’t ducked, perhaps it would have singed his nose hairs. At best. That sort of dragon was probably not worth much at all. Practically useless.

His key still stuck out of the lock. And now his coat and pants were wet. He said a curse – equally as ineffectual as his prayers, these days – and went inside.


The fire glowed softly. Damon sat close to it on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, eating beans from the tin with a spoon that had once belonged to a great priest of the Shal-dur sect. He’d taken the spoon and a ceremonial mask after he’d been asked to leave. He’d reveled in his minor act of vengeance at the time, believing that his actions would hurt the priest in some way, or perhaps make some sort of statement. Now he wished that, in his spitefulness, he’d taken something of more value. The priest’s jewel-topped scepter, for instance. Each one of the gems set in the scepter’s head was worth a pretty penny, not to mention the silver handle. Damon hadn’t been as practical as he could’ve been.

It was a nice spoon, though. Perhaps he could sell it. But then, how would he eat his beans or stir his coffee?

The tin was scraped clean. Nonetheless, he usually put them out in the alley. He had no offerings for the gods any longer but these trifling sorts of things: a button broken in half, the last of the milk which had curdled, an empty bean tin. He hoped that they understood that he still respected them, that he still… Well, worshipped wasn’t the right word. But no matter. He carried them in his heart. They existed, and so did he, and these days, it was all one – god or man – could cling to with any pride. Perhaps someday… Ah, again, a thought that didn’t bear thinking. He got up and took the tin outside.

A dragon sat on its haunches on his doorstep. It might’ve been the same one, but how many green dragons were there currently slinking around the city? A hundred? A thousand?

He narrowed his eyes and set down the tin. “For the gods, you little smiter.”

He shut the door except for a sliver and peeked out. The dragon, as expected, barely waited before jamming its snout in the tin. He watched in amusement as the dragon tussled with the tin, until its entire head was stuck inside. It finally wrestled the thing off and sat back, long, thin tongue lapping at its face to get at the remnants of bean sauce. Damon shut the door quietly, the chill having seeped into his clothes, and went back upstairs.


An hour later, he was hunched over, just finishing a copy of yesterday’s newspaper snagged from someone’s rubbish heap, when he heard a noise at the door. He adjusted his glasses, considering who it might be. Beggars, most likely. Robbers, possibly. The chancellor, come to offer him back his job and petitioner’s license — he snorted.

Probably beggars, hoping to benefit from the holiday spirit. He picked the paper up again.

Another noise. As if someone was too weak to properly knock, so they were scratching, dragging their half-starved knuckles across his door. Annoyed, he put the paper down and sternly reminded his imagination to rein itself in. He got up slowly, dropping the blanket that had covered his shoulders to the floor and reaching for the ancient length of short, warped steel that stood in for a proper weapon. Walking quietly to the door, he unconsciously said a prayer for protection and bravery, a warrior’s prayer, under his breath.

He waited. It came again, a slight sound. The wind, maybe, although the night had seemed still. Perhaps a storm was brewing? Surely that was it.

“Who’s there?” he said to the door. “Go away. We don’t have anything to give you.”

The scratching became frantic.

“I’ve got a…” He stared at his pathetic, cheap knife. “I’ve got a sword and I’m a trained knight of the… Oh, for Mara’s sake.” He threw open the door.

No one. No one at all. It had to have been the wind.

But that wasn’t the wind tapping small claws on his sock-clad feet.

“Beggar! Is that what you’re here for? Well, I’ve got some unfortunate news for you. No more beans. So hit the road. Off with you.” He glared sternly down at the reptile, its head cocking from side to side as he spoke. “Be gone, dragon!” And he pulled his feet back in and shut the door.

“Rats,” he mumbled to himself. “They’re like rats. Or small dogs.”

He added a single puny log to the fire, giving his fireplace one last, forlorn look before taking his blanket from the floor and getting into bed. He carefully removed his glasses and set them on the bedside table, pulling the blankets up to his chin.

Approximately four hours before the fire was well and truly dead. Four hours of decent sleep. He closed his eyes.

Within moments, there was a scratching at the window just over his head. He sat up and yanked back the threadbare curtain.

“You! I told you, I’ve got no more!”

Outside the window, crouched against the panes, the dragon stared in, steaming up the glass. The moon reflected in its eyes, full and round and bright. It scrabbled at the grilles, trying to keep hold of the rotting sill.

And it was shivering. He could see that much. He could also see the faint ochre glow of the amber in its belly.

Four hours.

The dragon’s lips curled back.

Dragon’s teeth, ground and used in certain potions. Not much individually, but there were one, two... A few. There were a few teeth in those jaws, certainly. And those feet, with their curving green claws: how much for those?

The thing obviously wanted in.

“… said the spider to the fly,” Damon mumbled, his fingers on the latch. The dragon’s mouth opened wider, its snout shoved against the glass. Light from the high, full moon permeated its leathery wings; Damon could see the dark tracings of veins, the long, slender bones as its wings beat wildly, trying to keep it aloft.

And that glow, steady but dull.

Really, how much was it worth, all together, all the pieces? How much was this one pitiful dragon worth?

His stomach grumbled, reminding him of morning. He’d heard it said that dragon tasted remarkably like chicken, once you’d boiled it enough so that it chewed less like shoe leather. A chill crossed his thin shoulders. He glanced at the table by the fire, where a coffee cup and a knife sat. An empty cup. A sharp knife.

It was just one beast. Barely worth the effort.

But still. He could let it in, if for no other reason than charity.

Yet charity was losing its battle within his heart these past few years; little enough had been shown to him, after all.

“I have nothing for you,” he said quietly. The dragon thwacked a paw against the window.

Dimly, he recalled sacrifices. They had been a lifetime ago, those bleating lambs, the cawing ravens. The wriggling, hissing dragons. Hadn’t there been one, a great big one, large as an ox? With black eyes, not gold. And there had been a sword, a real one. When he’d been a true priest.

His hands shook.

“I can’t let you in,” he whispered. “Please, understand.”

The mouth of the dragon shut. Its wings ceased beating. It fell out of sight.

Damon stared at the empty window, at empty night where previously, a small dragon had hovered, begging. He had the feeling of just waking from a dream, of not knowing he had woken and thinking that he might still be asleep.

He threw off the covers, crossing cold floorboards that destroyed any romantic notion of dreaming and waking, and cursing himself twenty times for stupidity. After all, he hardly had work; he could just afford this place, and maybe not for much longer. His coat had been patched and re-patched until the original material was in serious doubt. Coffee, the price of coffee had gone up again! To share these paltry resources was insane. No woman would have him, disgraced as he was and poor besides. Not an ounce of luck, no money –

Feet shoved into unlaced boots, he slapped his arms to keep warm as he tramped through the snow. Bitter cold. It had become, if possible, even colder than earlier.

“Dragon. Where are you? Dragon!” Damn it. He should’ve brought a stick from the fire. It was impossible to see out here. “Dragon! Show yourself, immediately. I did not come out here to waste my time…”

A flurry of sparks. At the bottom of a wall, limp and shivering, was the dragon.

Damon scooped up the scaly body, holding it close to his chest as he hurried back inside. There, by the crackling fire, he sat, wrapping himself in a blanket once again.

The dragon’s wings folded tight against its back. It trembled, clawed toes flexing and unflexing against his thigh.

“Ah, it’s warm in here now, come on.” Damon traced a finger along the dragon’s side, feeling the edges of ribs, down to the leg bones. “Starving, aren’t you. Not much of a hunter, eh? All right then. Stay here. I’ll see what I’ve got.” He stood, placing the dragon on the edge of the hearth. “Mind, it won’t be much.”

In the cupboards, he found a wrapped bundle of dried hunters’ sausages. He’d been saving them for tomorrow, to treat himself. With a sigh, he took the package down and opened it. He hoped the dragon was open to sharing, as those teeth, though small, looked fairly sharp.

When he returned, he was greeted by a strange sight. The dragon had climbed into the fire and curled there, eyes closed, smoke drifting peacefully from its nose.

Which did not prevent it, when it caught the scent of sausage, of waking up and slithering out. One sausage, two – it snagged the paper and dragged it into the fire before Damon could react.

“Wretch! Those are my only sausages.” Damon rested his chin on his knees, frowning. When he looked at the clock on the wall, he could just make out that it was after midnight. Tomorrow had come, after all. “Feast then, little vermin. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got moldy bread waiting.”

The dragon burped and rested a weary head on a flaring branch before slipping back into sleep. The fire danced around it. Damon watched until he, too, fell asleep.


It was summer. A field close-cropped by goats, and a boy and a dog at its edge. The sun warmed his skin and turned it brown, one long day after another. And as the boy watched the goats, he made up little songs, little rhymes: Callie gives milk, in buckets like silk, buckets too heavy to carry. She eats the clover from fields all over…

They were just something to pass the time, these silly songs. If Callie gave more milk after he’d sung it a few times, then what of it? He could sing-song the clouds over the moon, or turn his sister’s watery porridge into thick, hearty fare. With cinnamon, though they kept that secret between them.

“Damon, can you make this hole in my shoe go away?”

“No, but you can.”

“Damon!” she laughed, and he sang a song about patching holes and walking down the lane to meet a certain boy, and there was his sister a few months later, in her wedding shawl of white lace, shoes perfectly mended.

All summer, he sang to the goats and the chickens and the sun and the well. Then, at the very start of autumn, a man appeared, with a staff made of olivewood and a red and black cloak, and Damon left, twisting ’round to watch his home disappear as he sat on the back of a donkey.

For once, this dream did not end in darkness, or troubled fits. Instead, he drowsed awake slowly, aware that his head rested uncomfortably on the hard floor, and that the blanket covered him, but was not enough to keep him truly warm.

Yet he was. At his center, the sun itself, heat melting his muscles, spreading through him.

And spines. Sharp ridges, pressing against him, here and there. He pushed back the blanket.

“Dragon,” he muttered. Still dreaming, it seemed. Wait, no. The dragon, shining green scales and gleaming gold eyes, curled back its lips as it looked at him.

The dragon growled peacefully.

Well. This was something new. Who needed the amber from a dead dragon to warm them for one night, when a live dragon could radiate enough heat to keep a man warm every night? The ashes in the grate were cold, gray.

A dragon couldn’t keep a man fed, though. His stomach reminded him of the hour, and he shuffled into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes as he opened one empty cupboard after another.

A chair fell over. The dragon clambered upwards, scrabbling, pulling itself to the tabletop. There, it folded its wings and sat up, expectant. He tossed it the moldy bread. It burned it to a crisp before happily nibbling the remains.

One of them was fed, at least.

Outside, the snow had started again, fat flakes drifting down. Which wouldn’t stop the festivities, he knew. Damon rubbed his neck, staring out the window. When he was a boy, they’d made hoops of dried grass from the harvest, saved for just this day. He remembered chasing the hoops down the hill, shouting with the other boys. Chasing fire.

His heaviest coat, then. And both pairs of gloves, and both scarves. From the crock beneath the bed, a few coins. Why not? Today was a day of celebration. He’d worry about tomorrow’s meals when tomorrow came.

The dragon darted out the door as soon as he opened it, launching into the air, no longer the shivering, starved creature of the night before. He watched its tail disappear over the top of the next building, and in that instant, he marveled at his own good fortune at having had such a miraculous companion, even for a short amount of time. Had anyone else slept with an amazingly smooth parcel of warmth tucked against them? No stone, which cooled in hours and which dug into one’s flesh, but a living body, sharing its own resources. A miracle, and one he hadn’t even had to pray into existence.

Out in the lane, few walked. He hoped he hadn’t missed it. Down the narrow streets, out onto the boulevard. And there were the crowds, streaming out of the city in a joyous cacophony.

He joined them, noticing as he walked the stirrings in the shadows: the dragons that had found nowhere warm to spend the night, bodies twisted together or upon themselves like cats. Unblinking eyes watched him pass, a tendril of smoke floating here and there, marking their lairs under the eaves, between the cracks. He bought a packet of fried potato puffs, ate three, and tossed the rest surreptitiously to the dragons huddled beneath a merchant’s cart.

Damon stopped in the square, even as the crowd pushed past him. Dragons hung from poles, none larger than a common weasel. He noted the amputated paws, the slit bellies. Under his breath, he said a prayer for the deceased. Wherever dragons went, he hoped it was warm, and that there were plenty of rats.

On the outskirts was a hill, the Giant’s Hump. The road went around its base and then wound into the forest beyond, but clustered atop the knoll were children from town, with the mayor standing among them in his black greatcoat and top hat. Next to him, two priests dressed in ceremonial hibernal robes, dark blue and silver. Damon shielded his eyes against the snow, peering up. A weight settled on his shoulders, growling in his ear.

He seized the dragon. “You! Do you want to end up like your comrades?” He stuffed the dragon inside his coat, glancing around to see if anyone noticed. Everyone’s eyes were on the hill, where a priest was shouting the words to a prayer welcoming the gods of the new season while beside him, the other priest put the torch to the first of the wooden wheels. Grass hoops were for country folk, he supposed.

The dragon’s claws scratched his stomach as it turned, tunneling about in his coat. He put his hands over it, hoping to keep it still until he could let it go somewhere safe.

A wheel wobbled, slow, and then began racing down the hill, bouncing over the snowy drifts, flames streaming behind it. A second wheel was pushed, and a third. The children shouted, running down the slope or tumbling in the snow, laughing and red-faced.

The symbolic suns raced down the hill and collapsed into the smoking darkness of winter, a new season begun. The people cheered and turned and gathered their children, and Damon pressed through the flow. On the other side of the hill, at the edge of the woods, he would let the dragon fly. Along with a stern warning to stay out of the town.

The dragon rootled southward, popping out from under his coat and onto his boots. It shot into the air, whipping around to come back down, landing triumphantly back on his shoulder.

People noticed.

“Off,” he muttered, brushing it away. Its claws dug into his coat.

“What are you doing with that dragon?” asked an incredulous man.

“What does it look like?” he muttered into his scarf, shrugging to get rid of the dragon. It clambered around to his other shoulder. A crowd gathered, watching him duck and swat at the creature, which danced about his person, clinging easily to his coat.

A man stepped forward. “Do you want me to kill it for you?”

Damon froze. “Kill it? Gods, no!” He grabbed the dragon by the tail. “Fly, you miserable thing! Go!”

The dragon yanked its tail free and rose into the air, flapping just out of reach.

He pointed at the gray sky. “Begone, dragon!” he commanded.

The dragon flew down and landed on his arm. The crowd laughed. Damon glanced around. Some were still unsure, and more than one hand rested on the hilt of a knife, but curiosity ruled. He brought the dragon close, staring into its gold eyes.

“That’s enough. Beat it.” The dragon growled and pounced atop his head, spreading its wings. All around him, he could hear people laughing.

“Did you train him to do that?” a boy asked.

“Yeah, are you a dragon trainer or something?” said someone else.

Or something, Damon thought. “Yes, I’m his trainer. He, uh, does many tricks.” He pried the dragon from his head, the reptile wriggling in his hands until he stroked it under the chin. Gradually, it ceased struggling and quieted, allowing him to hold it, his fingers deftly rubbing a circle. “This is how to put him to sleep.”

“Really? Let me try!” A man approached, hand out.

“Er…” Damon backed up, but too late, the man’s fingers brushed over the dragon’s neck. The dragon’s head whipped around at the unfamiliar touch, a burst of flame singeing the man’s gloves.

“Ow!” the man yelped, jumping back. “That beast is dangerous!” He pulled off his glove, inspecting the skin.

“Ah, you’re fine. Just a mistake. You caught him off guard, that’s all.”

“Dragons is dragons,” said the man, and the crowd closed in, not laughing anymore but whispering low and dangerous. “Can’t be trained. Should be strung up with the rest of ’em.”

“That’s a bit hasty. We — we haven’t perfected our act yet.” Damon’s fingers beat a nervous tattoo on the underside of the dragon’s jaw. “Today was a trial run.”

“A trial run?” asked a soft, clear voice.

The crowd parted, respectfully allowing a man in dark blue and silver to pass through. By the man’s apparent youth, Damon assumed he was an acolyte. He carried no scepter, no chains, his hands bare and folded before him. Cheeks red from the cold, he smiled. “So we can expect a show with more polish at some later date?”

“Yes, well, I hope,” Damon blustered. If he could just keep the dragon quiet for another minute, they might be able to make their escape. Already, its head darted around, glaring at the people milling about them. He could feel its muscles tensing, readying for flight. Or fight, which would be far worse. There was sure to be only one outcome if the dragon decided to defend itself.

“Did you, perhaps, learn your techniques from Karl Olfester?” The young man’s face was kind, his eyes flitting from Damon to the dragon in his arms.

“No. Actually, I’m what you might call self-taught.”

“Ah. Perhaps, if you should ever want to further your education, you might go to Ormsbad, where Master Olfester practices. By the sea. Do you know of it?”

Damon suppressed a scowl. Of course he had. As an acolyte and, later, third-step priest, he’d traveled to temples all over. And here this man supposed that he was just another townsfolk, perhaps even assumed he was uneducated, that he – Damon stopped himself. He glanced down at the patched elbows on his coat, his boots with leather so scuffed that their original color was all but lost.

“I have heard of it, indeed.”

“Indeed?” The acolyte seemed delighted. “Well, I wish you luck with your dragon.” He paused, staring at the little dragon, who stared back. “May I say a prayer?”

“A prayer?”

“Just a few words.”

“Of course.” One never refused the official prayers of a priest. “Er, he’s not very friendly to strangers, so…”

“Watch my fingers. Yes.” The acolyte’s hand hovered in front of the dragon, bare fingers spread as he began to intone the words of a prayer for fortune’s favor in endeavors undertaken with animals and small children. Damon’s lips moved in tandem, his own hands clutching at the dragon, lest it mistake this blessing for a threat, or worse, mistake the acolyte’s plump fingers for more tasty sausages.

“Felicity,” finished the acolyte. Damon looked up, realizing the man had been watching him murmur along with the prayer, and his cheeks flushed. It was impertinence, at best. “Are you – that is, have you ever--”

“I am not,” said Damon, quietly. “Now.”

“Ah,” said the acolyte. He turned to the crowd. “Our resident dragon-trainer! Be sure to honor him. On this day, especially, let your generosity shine upon him.” And he stepped back, letting the sprinkle of coins hit the ground around Damon’s feet. The dragon sprang from his arms and gleefully snatched at the bright coins, bringing back three in his mouth.

“Yes, I’ve,” said Damon, clearing his throat, “been teaching him to retrieve. Thank you.” He bowed low, the dragon on his shoulders, grinning around a mouthful of coin.

The crowd dissipated, finally, leaving Damon and the acolyte alone. The man — or boy, for his features were smooth as river stone and his mouth still kind — waved to the elder priest.

“I must be going.” He held out a hand. “Francis Brann.”

Damon shook the hand. “Damon Drury,” he said, the false surname slipping from his lips with ease.

“Well, Damon. I look forward to seeing more of you and your dragon.” His eyes casually fell on the dragon, its tail winding around Damon’s neck. “You know, the temple is in need of someone to help with the records. Of course, you’d need to be able to read.”

“I can read,” Damon huffed.

“Of course,” he murmured. “Then stop by tomorrow. You might want to leave the dragon behind, though, as old Granniver thinks they’re vermin.”

“Imagine that.”

The acolyte smiled. “See you tomorrow, then. And, if you wouldn’t mind — could you say a prayer for me? I’ve lost my gloves and I haven’t been able to find them anywhere.”

Damon stared, the acolyte’s eyes meeting his. “A prayer of discovery. That should be the easiest thing for an acolyte at your stage.”

“Indeed. It should be.” He smiled and began to walk away, robes floating over the frozen ground. His voice called back, “Until tomorrow, Damon.”

Both Damon and his dragon watched the man gracefully make his way to the elder priest, who stood waiting nearby.

“Francis Brann,” he said to it. “Was I that smart at his age? Doubtful. Well, it’s home with us.” He patted a pocket, coins jingling. “And I think we’ll be stopping to get a few sausages on the way. It appears I’ve got to feed you now.”

He headed off for town through the slush. “And keep you warm, and who knows what else. I never wanted a pet. Did you hear that? No pets.”

The dragon purred as he rubbed it under its chin.

“Priests can’t have pets,” he said. It was true. Priests were forbidden pets and wives and the amassing of wealth — all things which, as a rule, were circumvented in a number of creative ways.

But he wasn’t a priest anymore.

He was a dragon-trainer. Or maybe just a man with a dragon. Either way, things were different now.

Yes. Very different.

He walked back into town a new man. Hardly richer, no better looking, and with the same frozen feet. But there stretched before him an impossible horizon, a garden world of temples and friends and clothes without patches. And all around, the flutter and flap of leathery wings.

The dragon at the window was inside, and it had brought a new kind of warmth in with it.

They passed through the square, the dragon clinging to his shoulder and hissing at the dismembered bodies of its clan.

“Don’t you worry,” whispered Damon. “We’ll fix it. But first, we need to teach you some manners.” Teaching. Hadn’t he been a teacher before?

Yes. But things were very different now. And it had all started with one small dragon.

The End

*This was first up for an anthology that has since been canceled. Then I submitted it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a fantasy magazine with a stellar reputation and a 98% rejection rate. You can guess why it's posted here now. :) BCS is highly recommended for fantasy reading, and if you are interested in submitting, the response was fairly quick (2-3 weeks, I forget exactly how long) and it was a personal rejection, not a form letter. I appreciate the editor's thoughtful and concise summary of why this was rejected.

I'm still editing (or, more precisely, thinking about editing...) a short story, another goes up in a couple of weeks and I'm quite excited about that one, and I'm not around much because I've gone deep underground--in my head. The rabbit went down the hole, and I must follow. The book(s) proceed slowly but so enjoyably. If I'm not around the interwebz, I'm probably in my backyard with a notebook and pen, staring at birds in the trees and writing pages of random chapters. It's... a different way of writing, for me. But I like it.

I feel like I'm writing for me, for once. I haven't truly done that in a long time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the story, and if not, that's fine too. Feel free to let me know, either way.

Kind regards,


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jury Duty

I just got home from serving on a trial.

This was my fourth summons in ten years. The previous three, I was "lucky" that I never made it into a courtroom; the attorneys settled and my group was dismissed. This time, not only did I go into the courtroom, but I ended up being one of fourteen chosen out of a pool of 42. Two were alternates and not needed, leaving twelve of us.

This afternoon, I consider myself lucky that I was chosen, and I'm very glad to have not only fulfilled my civic duty, but that I got a chance to participate in our legal system. I also think... it works. Sure, nothing's perfect, but I feel very good about the outcome.

I can talk freely about it now, so here's the basics: It was an Assault with Intent to Murder trial, in which one man was accused of beating another with an aluminum baseball bat.

The first man was working out a gym/fight club. He went up to a local gas station to get Gatorade. While there, the owner of the gas station told him that three vehicles had pulled up, that those guys were looking for him and he'd better run. So that's what he did. He tried to run back to the gym, but the cars followed him. One, a gray minivan, hit him outside the gym, knocking him to the ground. Then the other cars pulled up, and a bunch of guys, all armed with baseball bats, got out. One said, "This is for my homey, motherfucker!" and brought the bat down. The victim put up an arm, and it was snapped in half. A second blow split the top of his head. While that was happening, another guy began kicking him in the ribs. At some point, onlookers yelled and the perpetrators scattered.

The victim was brought into a bar by the owner of the gym, where wet towels were put on his head until an ambulance arrived and he was taken to Detroit Receiving.

And now, things get fuzzy. There are various police reports, all naming one guy -- the driver of the gray minivan, who is a guy who had a beef with the victim -- as the kicker, but not naming the guy with the baseball bat. At some point later -- after a couple of police interviews and then testifying under oath in a preliminary exam -- the victim did name him. That man was arrested and put on trial.

But the victim had only met this man once before, and for an extremely brief exchange of words, and that exchange had not been angry or confrontational at all.


This man has a twin brother.

There were no witnesses (or, should I say, no one who would testify at this trial), which left us with an inconsistent victim. Unfortunately, as I told my fellow jurors in deliberations, we really don't know which brother was there -- if either. Frankly, there was no evidence that either was there, other than the victim's words.

And all of these people are shady characters. This happened in an extremely bad part of Detroit, and the people involved were convicts, out on parole, and admitted drug users. We got the sense that there were rival gangs or it was about drug money, or very likely both. We were not given much information/evidence to go on, and we spent hours trying to connect the dots and figure out why and how this happened.

In the end, while we felt badly for the victim -- he clearly got the shit beat out of him -- we couldn't send a man to jail who may be innocent. In this country, if there is "reasonable doubt," you must acquit, and we had way more than just reasonable doubt.

In some ways, we felt like jurors must've felt on the Casey Anthony trial: we all had gut feelings that this guy, or more likely his brother, was somehow involved, even if they just knew what was going to happen. But there was no proof, and this kid -- for he was a young guy -- couldn't go to jail for that.

Did an innocent man go free, and justice was served? Or did a guilty man get away with something? I cannot say for sure, but I do know that we didn't convict a man on gut feelings, and that our system worked.

When we announced our verdict, we were instructed to go back into the jury deliberation room while the courtroom was cleared. As we walked by the defendant, who was sobbing the moment he heard the verdict, he looked each of us in the eye and thanked us. His wife, sitting near by, was also crying. Minutes later, the judge came in, thanked us again, and then she said, without knowing our reasoning, that there had been no way to tell which twin, if either, had been involved, and so we did the right thing. We really felt good then, because that had been the basis of our decision.

The other man involved in the beating is in jail, pleading insanity, and the judge said he probably won't get away with it. In his case, there's way too much evidence, plus I guess he's some kind of really bad guy who's going away for one thing or another. And we did say, as jurors, that all the evidence we heard and believed pointed clearly to this other man. So to jurors on that trial -- whew, your decision will be easier than ours.

To the man who walked out a free man today after spending the last few months in jail: I wish you well, and knowing your current circumstances, I hope you learned a lesson. Please don't run around with those people anymore. It seems like you're trying to get your life together, and you're really young, with a wife and small children. Everything can be different from here on out.

I think I sound like an old fart when I say that, but I sincerely hope that this person stays away from that part of Detroit and his old crowd. He's got a chance. Take it.

And one last thing: Only a few of us jurors admitted that when we first walked in the courtroom, we judged a book by its cover. We looked at the defendant and thought, "Oh yeah, he's guilty." I completely did. I thought, "Thug in a suit." Was I right? I don't think so, not anymore.

The entire process was tedious and boring at times. The graphic photos of injuries were a bit much for me (weak stomach, believe it or not). But watching people get up on the stand and try to lie or sway their words to mean a specific thing, and watching the attorneys do the same kind of maneuvering, was interesting. And deliberations, though ours lasted about six hours, was really interesting. And of course, there's the sense that you participated in our justice system and helped it work, and were valuable in doing so. I would totally do this again.

To think, a few days ago, I was sick and anxious because I had to go to jury duty.


Now, a brief note: The Walking Dead is totally going to shit. WTF.

That is all.

(seriously, I might cancel my subscription)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Microfic: Whitecaps; Current writing plan


The Plague hit hardest in our coastal village, with babes tossed in the water alongside old men for months. When finally we survivors stood on the beach, ragged and starved but free of disease, we watched as the waves coughed up our dead, one by one. They were happy to see us.


My writing plan of late: Three short stories needed editing, then moving on to serious work on the book. Two shorts finished: one submitted and waiting for response, one going up shortly (no idea of exact date at the moment). The third is one of my very favorites of my own, but I've stalled at the ending. I'm really excited to be swapping stories right now with another writer who is also stuck, and coincidentally, kind of at the same spot.

While that's been going on, I've been using OneWord as a daily exercise. The above microfic is one of those, and you can find me there as rsbohn.

While I've got numerous unfinished shorts awaiting further work, and a few sites that I used to actively engage in as weekly exercises (Lily's Friday Prediction and Three Word Wednesday are a couple of my favorites), I've put them aside for the time being. At some point, I realized I was using them as a distraction from bigger works, excuses not to buckle down on the larger projects. A short attention span? Maybe. Or possibly fear that I can't pull off a book. Which is silly, since I've done it twice plus a novelette. But yeah, probably fear.

At some point, I may ask a friend and fellow writer if she could brainstorm with me a bit, help me move the obstacles in my brain. I've never really done that before at such an early stage in the process, but I think I need a little creative ass-kicking. If anyone's totally into brainstorming and that sort of thing, email me. And I shall return the favor.

Thanks for reading, amigos.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back Home! And Two Fic Recs: Myth and Science Fiction

Did not like the new Blogger in Draft. Too cold. Too new. I dislike change.

Which is why, though I usually wish I lived back in my home state of Connecticut, I am glad to be back in Michigan. I get discombobulated. And there is always that sense, when returning home, that you no longer belong there. That you've gone too far, and you can never go back. I'm awash in memories, saddened by the differences in the reality, and struggling to reconnect to family (who love me so much and are so happy to see me), struggling to reconnect to the girl I once was. I don't know her anymore. I think I would be afraid to know her--whether because I'd be embarrassed by her silliness, naivete, insane confidence, or that she'd be embarrassed by me, now. Which.

Getting up early to wander the yard, looking at spiders in the lavender and broken robin's eggs beneath the lilac makes one philosophical, I think.


Finally getting a chance to thoroughly catch up. Two marvelous pieces have just appeared, and it's like a gift to me, for coming home! Maybe not, but if those authors want to say they're a Welcome Home present, I would be glad.

Stars by Jacob Allgeier at Six Sentences. Micro-flash about an astronaut, with some of the most beautiful descriptions of emotions and the galaxy that I've read in a while. It thrilled my inner sci-fi girl. Read, read, read!

And John Xero celebrates the anniversary of his blog with a piece by Dee Harding, The Bird Garden. Myth and longing, exquisitely written.

Two of my very favorite subjects, done well by talented writers. Very inspiring.

Now to work on my own piece, finally. I feel I've taken a stellar, spectacular piece off the rails, and I'm not sure how to get it back on track. Time to give this some cold, hard thinking. Is it beyond me, perhaps, the intellectual discussion between two characters? Or is it not that, but that I'm winding towards an unsatisfying end? Preparing the cold steel of the sword of editing...